Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Inexplicable Yard List

Posted By Pat Bumstead

Earlier this month I was standing at my kitchen window watching an out-of-season Common Grackle in the yard. Scanning the trees to see if he was alone, I was absolutely astonished when a Snowy Owl flew in front of my face. He flew towards me from the back corner of the yard and disappeared over the house. I quickly ran to the front windows just in time to see him continue his flight up the road, and out of sight. It probably took me no more than 15 or 20 minutes to close my mouth.

We have lived here since 1980, and have 5 mature conifers, 3 deciduous trees, 4 shrubs and an average of 11 bird feeders. An hour to the west are the Rocky Mountains and foothills, and just to the east and south are the prairie grasslands. Our location at the confluence of so many different habitats may help explain why my yard list contains 109 species, but does not explain the magical properties it occasionally assumes.

On Oct 3, 2004 (yes, I remember the date), I heard a new bird sound in the back. Going to one of the bedrooms where the window was open, I looked into a shrub and saw a Hooded Warbler. A call to the local rare bird alert resulted in at least 84 birders in my yard from dawn to dusk, as this obliging little bird stayed here for six weeks, and was a first for the province. We had birding visitors from as far away as the two neighboring provinces. We had naturalists, we had reporters, we had confused neighbours...

A small bird about 3,000 miles off course was exciting enough, but to add to the mystery, a Boreal Owl took up residence in the spruce trees at the same time. He was here daily for nearly a month. Round two of birder visits. My husband got up for work one morning, wandered into the kitchen in his housecoat, and was greeted by 8 birders standing on the deck, waving at him. He eventually found that funny.

Each February, a Great-horned Owl spends his days in my spruce trees for a couple of months. Last year he was here so long I decided he better have a name. Meet Buster.

The recent Snowy Owl fly by was the fifth owl species for the yard – Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet have also stopped by for a visit. Diurnal raptors on the list include Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shined Hawk, Merlin and American Kestrel. Osprey, Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks are common overhead during the summer months, and Bald Eagles can be seen from the yard year round. Both Peregrine and Prairie Falcons fly by on occasion.

The insect eaters are regular summer visitors:
Western Wood Peewee
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Tree Swallow
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
MaGillvray’s Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler

I’m always glad when I get migrating sparrows in the yard, and I have a dedicated sparrow-feeding area at the back of the yard for these guys:

American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Harris’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

I also have two species that some people might not count, but hey, it’s my yard list, so I choose to add Chukar Partridge and a free-flying Budgerigar!

Mourning Doves moved in a few years ago, and last year spent the entire winter in the yard – I nearly went broke trying to make sure they had enough food. This past summer was the first entry for Eurasian-collared Doves, but they’re getting fairly common in the city, and have been reported as far north as The Yukon. For some reason, (thankfully) I’ve never had Rock Doves at the feeders, although they do stroll down the sidewalk out front occasionally.

Regular year-round visitors include House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (red or yellow shafted) and Black-billed Magpies.

The rest of my in-yard visitors:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Gray Jay
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Mountain Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
Hermit Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Western Tanager
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Pine Grosbeak
Cassin's Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

While we live in a city of 1.1 million people, we are located on the eastern edge, a block from the Bow River which is a major watercourse in southern Alberta. I also count birds flying over the house, and to date have noted 16 species:

American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Trumpeter Swan
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Common Goldeneye
Sandhill Crane
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Common Nighthawk
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow

When I phoned a couple of birding friends to tell them about the Snowy Owl, they were only mildly surprised. Here I was, bursting with excitement, and their response was well yes, but it is your yard...


  1. A wonderful post Pat and such a great yard list!

  2. Super post Pat, love the imagined look of your husband waking to birders on the deck :) Wonderful photos and an amazing yard list, very jealous :)
    happy holidays!


  3. That's quite the yard list! I, too, count who flies overhead (I thought it was 'allowed'). Am envious of your owl population.

  4. Great to read about your yard list, and see how it differs from mine, although we live fairly close to each other (it mostly differs by being MUCH larger). I count 108 species listed in your post, but notice that you don't mention House Sparrows! I'm pretty sure I saw one there once, so that must be #109.

  5. Amazing yard list and to get a Snowy Owl on top of that! It's nice to see someone with tree numbers similar to ours. We have so few with the amount of acres we live on.

    We are still learning about the birds and know we've not been able to ID most flyovers.
    Happy new year!

  6. How awesome to have a yard like that and such wonderful obliging birds - and awesome of you to share it with fellow birders!
    I wouldn't mind seeing those birdies too :D

  7. Thank you all for your wonderful comments. You're welcome to come visit any time and yes, I do in fact have house sparrows...:-) Oops.