Birds in our backyard
In the hustle and bustle of summer, it can be easy to get caught up in commuting to vacation hot spots and putting on the perfect BBQ party. If there is ever time to spare, one sure way of taking a break and getting back in touch with nature’s surroundings is by taking in the abundance of both beautiful and peculiar birds.
Whether in one’s literal backyard or in the backyard known broadly as the Mid-Ohio Valley, summer birds, some characterized as much more colorful and others who are just eager to chomp down on summertime bugs, are one sight that is always free of charge.
Whether doing it for recreation or working as an expert, bird watching can be a fun way to learn more about our everyday surroundings with a skyward perspective.
Summer birds of the valley
Bill Thompson, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest in Marietta, explained that there are several unique species of birds, both cool and colorful, that make their homes in Washington County during the hot months.
“One of the neatest things is to look at the Putnam bridge, which you can see from the park or the bike path,” Thompson said. “That’s where the cliff swallows are, and we never used to have them here, but they’ve been building nests under the bridge.”
Cliff swallows spend days carrying beak-fulls of mud under the bridge to make jug-shaped nests, and Thompson said it is almost impossible to miss them if you are nearby.
“There are currently hundreds of them swooping around the Muskingum River, eating all the bugs around there,” Thompson said.
Several bird trails have been established, including trails at the Broughton Wildlife and Nature Education Area, the Kroger Wetlands and along the mouth of the Muskingum River.
In summer, yellow warblers nest in shrubbery along the west side of the Muskingum River on Gilman Street, and warbling vireos can be found in the sycamores at Indian Acres park, according to reports compiled by the Marietta Natural History Society.
At Jackson Hill Park, bird watchers might find yellow-breasted chat, a large, bright songbird, or red-eyed vireos that are small, songbird warblers.
“Right downtown in Marietta, at night, there are common night hawks out,” Thompson said. “They’re dark with white throats and white slashes out toward the end of the wing.”
Though intimidating at first thought, Thompson said they’re quite the sight to see.
“They fly like bats, and make a sound almost like the note of a roadrunner,” he said. “They nest on flat, gravel roofs in Marietta, and they’re really cool to see.”
Lucine Wright, a bird watcher from Marietta and a member of the Mountwood Bird Club in Parkersburg, said a good thing to see this summer are redheaded woodpeckers.
“We see those because there are standing dead trees along the Hughes River that you see a lot of,” Wright said. “That’s what they use, so you can see a lot of them.”
In your own backyard
If you want the full feeling of nature right within your fence, there are a few measures to take to bring summertime birds to you.
“This time of year, having water is critical for birds,” said Andy Thompson, publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest. “Moving water is best, so add a mister or dripper for birds to refresh and clean themselves and play.”
Thompson also said having gardens and shrubbery with all the fruits of the summer is the best way to ensure bird company.
“Things we grow for ourselves-raspberries, blueberries-birds love fruit,” Andy Thompson said. “So there are a lot more natural sources for them to enjoy now because of the agricultural differences.”
Bill Thompson also suggests providing some good nesting spots in the yard.
“In your yard, put some nest boxes up for cavity nesting birds like chickadees, blue birds, swallows, purple martins,” he said. “And hummingbird numbers are starting to pick up now, so you’ll see an uptick in that.”
Diane Porter, of birdwatching.com, said if you want to see glimpses of the rapid-paced, tiny hummingbirds, stick to a specific color.
“Just interest them with something red, and then reward them with something sweet, like flowers or feeders that hold nectar,” she said in an article.
Never rule out flowers too, as a good way to attract the hummers, Porter said.
“Flowers are the ultimate hummingbird attractors,” she said. “Red ones especially, but other colors will do also, like coral bells, bee balm and petunias.”
It’s also the right time to experience the early stages of a bird life, as summer is prime time for new birds.
“This is a time for baby birds, so if you’re feeding birds, it’s interesting to see baby birds move from fledgling to adapting on their own,” Andy Thompson said. “The parents will be bringing them to feeders, and it’s great to watch.”
Wright said some of the best birdwatching is in your backyard because it allows there to be a real, everyday connection.
“You always enjoy the birds around your home, because you see them, you hear them,” Wright said. “You work in the yard or hang up your clothes, and you have familiar voices around you, and you really get to know them.”
Right time and place
Bill Thompson noted that though it may seem too early, July is actually the time when northern birds start to head south.
“As we get toward July, it’s already time to look for southbound migrants,” he said. “That’s anything like shorebirds, some gulls, all starting to make their way south and wandering around here.”
Wright said because summer is a busy time for nesting and feeding, they can be harder to spot.
“Because they’re busy doing that, there’s not as much voice, so you have to be there at the right time and place and really listen,” she said.
Bill said it’s really a matter of just being observant and knowing where to look.
“As the summer goes on, the volume of birds starts to decrease, but they’re still around,” he said. “Walk along the bike path, visit the Wetlands. Even Willow Island, Devols Dam or Belpre Civitan are good places to scan around and see habitats.”
Andy also suggested taking binoculars with you, even on vacation, to observe and see some things you might not normally see, but also noted that summertime is really the best time to see birds that can be as much as three or four different colors.
“For the average person it’s harder when there’s so much natural flora in summer, but bird watching is one of those things you can do when you have time,” he said.