Bird Behavior


Scrub jay at our feeder.

I got the idea for this experiment while watching the sand hill cranes feeding in the fields around Hastings, Nebraska. To most people, bird watching means trying to identify different kinds of birds. Really, that is bird spotting. Bird watching means finding a bird and watching it, to see what it is doing.

At first, the cranes just seemed to be walking around eating seeds, but as I watched them, I began to notice all sorts of interesting behavior, from squabbles over food to some bits of "dancing" that is their mating behavior. It really was a wonderful experience. You don't have to have cranes in your yard to see some spectacular bird behavior.

All you need is:

  • some bird seed
  • an open area, outside a window where you can comfortably watch
  • a notebook or pad to write notes on
  • a good bird book (optional)

Find a window in your house where you can comfortably sit for a while and that has a good view of an open area on your lawn. Scatter a few hand fulls of bird seed in this open area. Now go inside, pull up a comfortable chair and begin watching. Write down your starting time and then not how long it takes for the first bird to come.

When the first bird arrives, watch it closely. Often, they will give a feeding call, to let other birds know that there is food. Are the next birds of the same kind, or are they different kinds? Do some of the birds try to chase others away from the food? Which birds are the most aggressive? Which of the birds are most timid? The more you watch them, the more you will realize that each kind of bird has its own characteristics.

You will also start to see that even within the same kind, behavior will vary from one bird to the next. Even if you don't know a robin from a sparrow, bird watching can be a lot of fun, but I do want to warn you. If you are not very careful, you might learn a few things about birds along the way.

Have a wonder-filled week.

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