backyard birdwatching

Backyard Birdwatching At The Cabin

I just came back from a trip to my wife’s family cabin in northern Wisconsin, where I went with my 2 daughters and father-in-law.  Northern cabinWe only get up there every handful of years, but always love to do lots of birdwatching during our short stays.  This cabin is in the middle of the north woods (literally) amid all kinds of pines, spruces, firs, birches, and other trees.  But, there’s also lots of water, including a spring-fed pond with trout in it right next to the cabin.

One of the most exciting parts of every visit to me is what new wildlife or bird sighting we are going to see.  Every visit yields some really interesting bird or animal sighting.  One year, a family of river otters entered the pond from the creek and cavorted in the water for several hours.  Another year, a mature bald eagle landed in a tree next to the pond.  Yet on another trip, an unusual Black-backed woodpecker was sighted near the cabin.

What does this have to do with backyard birdwatching?  Many times, our vacation cabins are just smaller versions of our own yards back home – but with different habitats nearby and different birds and wildlife.  So, it gives us a chance to observe and learn about a whole new and exciting world of wildlife up close.

At our cabin, we always put out bird feeders when we arrive – usually a sunflower feeder, tray feeder, thistle tube, and hummingbird feeder.  Despite the fact people are seldom there, the birds usually find the feeders amazingly quickly.  The hummingbirds in particular will arrive in short order, often in less than half an hour.  Here is one of our visitors – a female Ruby-throated hummingbird:

This year was different.  Maybe it was the heat that has plagued much of the country this year.  Or maybe it was because almost no one had visited the cabin this year up until our arrival.  But, it took almost 3 hours for the hummingbirds to show up.  And after 2 1/2 days, we still had seen no birds at the seed feeders.  This was despite hearing and seeing chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, goldfinches, and mourning doves close by.  Oh well!

However, the chipmunk family that lives under the cabin never disappoints!  They were making frequent trips back and forth for sunflower in no time.

That brings me to this year’s exciting bird sightings.  After a short time, we started seeing a Black-billed Cuckoo flying back and forth between short trees in front of the cabin.  Cuckoo’s are hard to spot almost everywhere because of their shy, “stay out of the limelight” nature.  But this bird was unusually accomodating at letting us see him/her land on open perches nearby.   Here is more information on Black-billed Cuckoos.

Sometimes, seeing really cool birds in the yard is simply a matter of patient watching and being in the “right place at the right time”!  While watching the pond one of the afternoons, a large bird glided across the water and landed on the opposite shore.  After grabbing the binoculars, I saw a large bird of prey getting a drink in the shallow water.  The grey plumage, size, and eye-stripe shouted out Northern Goshawk!  This was a “life bird” for me – one I had never seen.  Goshawks are fierce predators of the north woods that don’t venture very far south in the U.S.  In some winters however, they’ll appear in the northern states in search of food.  Here is more information on Northern Goshawks.

The purpose of this post is to point out that there’s a really exciting world of birds beyond the species that visit our feeders, nesting boxes, and bird baths.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in your primary home or get-away cabin.  Once you create a diverse habitat for birds at your home or cabin, lots of wonderful birds will appear!


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Cornell Lab of Ornithology