Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, May 22, 2020

Spying on My Backyard Birds

Cedar Waxwing
When I heard waxwings on my May 5 recording, I went outside and there they were!
This spring, with nowhere else to go, I’ve been limiting myself to backyard birding. I look out the window as much as I can, but I haven’t been able to get out there nearly enough because I’m so busy inside my house, reorganizing and downsizing my office, with a strict deadline for family reasons. But I’ve found a way to get outside birding every morning for at least an hour, and sometimes longer than three hours, even as I’m in bed sleeping or in my office being productive. All I have to do is pull myself out of bed with my digital recorder, set it on a log, press record, and go back in the house. While I’m busy in my office, I can listen to the previous day’s recording and hear everything I missed.

Most of the birds I hear on each day’s recording are the usual suspects—birds that I’ve been seeing for at least a few days. But sometimes I catch the sound of them doing interesting behaviors. Last Wednesday, a Pileated Woodpecker must have been rooting around a log next to my recorder. It started out alarming one of the backyard flickers, and then did its own yelling. One morning last week, crows and jays were yelling their fool heads off at the neighborhood fox. For the next several hours, there wasn’t a squirrel or rabbit to be seen. I first heard baby crows begging on Wednesday, on my recording. They aren’t too noisy yet, but that will be fun to capture.

This has been an exceptionally slow spring migration, warm weather just barely starting to arrive up here, so warblers and other migrants just started slowly trickling through. I’d had five warbler species through Wednesday, but doubled that on Thursday, when my first catbird and an Alder Flycatcher turned up, too.

American Robin

From my backyard this year, even without my hearing aids in I can hear three different nesting robins and three different nesting chickadees singing. Having three pairs nearby more than triples the amount of singing I hear compared to when I just have one pair. When a pair of robins or chickadees has this whole end of the block to themselves, the male can spend a lot of his time focused on things other than singing, but the moment a neighbor pipes in, that break is over. With three pairs of each, the singing goes on pretty much continuously for long stretches of my recordings. Robins start up while it’s still quite dark, but quiet down when they get enough light to see earthworms. We haven’t had a soaking rain here in weeks, so they have to work at getting worms, but fortunately they must be finding plenty of other food because they all seem healthy and busy.

My early morning recordings have been of varying quality—on windy days, the background noise is distracting, but I’m pretty happy with how they’re turning out on still days. If I want a beautiful recording, I have to edit out conversations picked up from an early-rising neighbor’s yard, a couple of dogs who occasionally bark, garbage trucks, cars, and every now and then an airplane passing over. I’ve mostly been focusing on finishing my office switch, so haven’t gone through all that in the past two or three weeks, but these recordings are doing a wonderful job of documenting this spring. I try to listen to each day’s recording that afternoon or evening while I’m working—I write down each species on each recording as I hear it so I can tag every species on each recording. As I upload recordings to the database at, people looking up different species on my website can access every recording tagged for it, or can click on my ambient sound recordings to find all the longer recordings I’ve made. Working on this is giving me great background sounds as I listen to each of them. The best of them will be a pleasure to listen to on long road trips or those cold, silent winter days when spring seems too far away.