Biodiversity in your Backyard: Birds

Welcome back to the biodiversity in your backyard series! This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at our feathered friends — the birds. The United States is a huge, incredibly diverse place, especially when it comes to birds. Luckily for you, I’ve lived on both coasts and in the midwest, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you might see when you peer out your windows.

Cool Bird Facts

With eye-catching headlines like Tyrannosaurus Rex “was more like a chicken than a crocodile”, what’s not to love about birds? Some taxonomists believe that birds are really just avian dinosaurs.

Cartoon by David Morgan-Mar

Whether or not you believe birds are dinosaurs, birds are a wildly diverse and utterly fascinating part of the world around us. Wild birds have learned how to use tools. Domesticated birds have been used as evidence in court trials, and some birds even make other species raise their young.

In the springtime, I always look forward to the return of birds. As you’re sitting on your porch or staring out your window, see if you can spot these species. Can’t see any birds? You might be able to hear them instead! As you first get into bird-watching, you’ll want some easy wins. Here are the easiest birds to spot in North America. You can find them with their bright colors and distinct markings.


Blue Jay, courtesy of Adel Alamo

One of my favorite backyard birds is the bright and colorful Blue Jay. There are actually several species of Jays, but the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, is the most common visitor to my backyard. Blue Jays are in the Corvid family, which means that they’re closely related to Crows! These highly intelligent birds have noisy caws and are known to be omnivores, eating nuts, seeds, and occasionally the eggs of other species.

Bonus Blue: The Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird (male), courtesy of Dr. Jeff Peters

If you catch a flutter of blue out of the corner of your eye, but it’s not as big or as noisy as a Blue Jay, you might have an actual Eastern Bluebird on your hands! These muted blue-and-orange birds are smaller than Robins, and eat a mix of insects and berries. If you’ve got bird houses or open places for them to perch, you might find yourself with a little Bluebird family!


Northern Cardinal (male), courtesy of Dr. Jeff Peters

Another primary color favorite, Cardinals are the bright red birds that you’ll see in your backyard throughout most of the season. The Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, is a bright red bird sporting a fancy, eye-catching crest and cheerful song. Cardinals exhibit sexual dimorphisms, which means the males and the females are drastically different. The males are bright red, but the females are brown with red-tinged feathers most often on their crest. Cardinals can live over fifteen years in the wild!

FUN FACT: Though you’ll likely never see one, Cardinals are sometimes yellow.


American Goldfinch (male), courtesy of Dr. Jeff Peters

The American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis, is hard to miss with its bright yellow color and unique flight pattern. Most often found around thistles and milkweed, Goldfinches can be attracted with almost any type of bird feeder and seed. Did you know that Goldfinches are the only finches that molt twice a year? Their winter colors are more dull than their breeding colors. Like Cardinals, Goldfinches are sexually dimorphic, and females tend to be browner with softer yellows throughout. Goldfinches are strict vegetarians and spend most of their time foraging for seeds.

And… Action!

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Check out the other blogs in our Backyard Biodiversity series!

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