Learn About Birds

Urban Birds

For a while now, we’ve had the thought that birds we see in our yard behave differently than birds seen on our hikes in remote areas.

Carolina Wren Nesting

Nesting 3 feet from front door

Carolina Wren in Vent

Nesting in oven vent

Here they seem less skittish. We’ve observed that birds in the neighborhood tolerate loud noises (leaf blowers, house construction), traffic, people and light pollution. We’ve had two Carolina Wren families raise young in nests near our house – at the same time. Right now, in April 2015, one nest is three feet from the front door with all our coming and going, and another is in a vent for the kitchen oven. Both are noisy high-traffic spots. By contrast, when we’re in the wild, the same species flee when we get near or make a noise.

Also, territorial boundaries seem to be smaller. We’ve read in multiple sources that the Eastern Bluebird’s territory requirements are such that 100 yards is the minimum distance between birdhouses. However, we’ve observed in our own yard that Eastern Bluebirds will inhabit birdhouses placed within 75 – 100 feet of each other.

So while experience supported our conclusions in the differences in behavior, it was not very scientific. However, quite a few studies have been done that support what we felt to be true.

Eastern Bluebird house

Bluebird House 30 feet from front door and 30 feet from street traffic

Most species don’t tolerate urban environments very well, but some do. The difference is “…that organisms with broad environmental tolerance (generalists) are less sensitive to human disturbance than those with a more narrow tolerance (specialists)…” [1] Some examples of generalist species we have here are American Robin, House Finch, Northern Cardinal and the Mourning Dove.

“Birds that hang out in large urban areas seem to have a marked advantage over their rural cousins – they are adaptable enough to survive in a much larger range of conditions.” [2]

American Robin worm

American Robin with a worm from the yard

“American Robins can thrive in many habitats, including lawns with abundant earthworms. Hummingbirds, chickadees, sparrows, finches, woodpeckers, and other birds take advantage of bird feeders. Even hawks and owls find increasingly safe nesting sites and abundant prey in our towns and cities.” [3]

And Cornell reports that a new study from The Royal Society reports that “…20 percent of all known bird species—live in the world’s cities…” [4]

Mourning Dove

Morning dove nesting in a thicket near a driveway

We tend to take for granted those birds we see and hear all the time: American Robins, Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Nuthatches, Mourning Doves and Crows. But it’s exciting to know that many more birds that are not visible day to day make this home. We have pictures of some of the ones taken in our yard and the neighborhood. These birds are making a home here with us. We’re just trying to help with food, water, shelter, native plants – and no chemicals.

Year-round Residents and Migratory Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds

Some birds live here all year and others are just passing though on their way north in the spring or south in the fall. If you see a flock of Cedar Waxwings, or Red-winged Blackbirds in March or April, they are just passing through. You’ll also see Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the spring.

American Robins also come through in droves in the spring picking berries off holly bushes, Dogwoods and crabapples.   But there are American Robins that are here with us all year. This is an example of a species that has individuals that stay here year-round here but other individuals that are here temporarily.

Other species, such as Sandhill Cranes you can hear as they head for more southern or northern climes. Often they have camped overnight nearby, like these on a sandbar at Lake Allatoona, and are headed to or from the coast. It’s great to hear them calling as they pass overhead.  Listen to their wonderful sound in the video below.


You saw a bird – briefly. Or you heard a call. But who was it? How can you find out?

We’re not very good at this either, but we’re getting better. Five years ago we couldn’t tell a Cardinal from a Robin. The good news is that you’ll get better quickly. And learning birds by sight and sound can be fun and will increase your enjoyment of watching those who show up in your yard.

Sibley Guide to BirdsBooks help. We list four great birding books on our page ‘Books We Like’.  You might prefer a reference book with photographs, but we think Sibley’s drawings give more information.

Checklists will also help. No need to think you saw a Western Scrub-Jay when there aren’t any this part of the country.  Atlanta Audubon keeps a checklist of birds seen in Atlanta [6]. The list is complied and updated by serious birders who know their birds, and it will help you with identification.

Peterson     Stokes

If you are good at remembering sounds, two CD sets we’d recommend are Peterson Birding by Ear and Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.

And, fortunately, there’s the Internet. Our favorite resource is Cornell’s All About Birds site [7]. They have photos, range maps and calls for most every North American bird. Even better is Cornell’s Merlin app [8], which asks six or seven simple questions about what you saw, when and where and then presents candidates. We’ve had great results with this app.

Birds of Prey

Cooper's Hawk

This Cooper’s Hawk was hunting from the rooftop

We’ve seen or heard several species of birds of prey in Peachtree Park which include: Hawks (Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered) Owls (Great Horned, Barred, Eastern Screech-) and a Peregrine Falcon. Pictures of several of these species that were taken in the neighborhood are on the Bird Photos page.

Birds of Prey, of course, prey on other animals: rats, squirrels, frogs, snakes and other birds. Owls are nocturnal and hunt and mate only at night.

Cooper’s Hawks nest in the pines between Darlington Rd. and Darlington Circle and every year for the last 10 years or so they raise and train their young. Cooper’s Hawks are an example of a species that’s adapted very well to living in urban environments. There are some studies that show that their numbers are higher in towns than their natural habitat. [10]

You can see Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks flying high overhead almost daily.

Great Horned Owl

Crows scolding a Great Horned Owl

One afternoon late in the day we heard a murder of crows making a ferocious racket. They had surrounded a Great Horned Owl high up in a pine. 45 minutes later, the crows got tired and left and the Owl was able to fly away.

A neighbor on Timm Valley reports that Barred owls have nested in their back yard for several years and you can hear them calling to each other at night. On an evening stroll at dusk at the intersection of Timm Valley and Burke you might see them in the pines as they wake up for the nightly hunt.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Screech-Owl in a bird house

Screech-Owls will nest in a bird house and if you’ll put one on a tree, an Eastern Screech-Owl might come inhabit it. They are beautiful birds and hunt mostly at night. At dusk and dawn you can see they will often sit in a bird house with their face in the opening just looking around.

Window Strikes

IMG_1352Birds sometimes injure themselves when they fly into a window.  This happens much more frequently in the spring and fall with migrating birds that are unfamiliar with the area and man-made structures.

If the strike is hard enough, it will kill the bird. You can help reduce the likelihood of a window strike by placing a few sticky notes on the inside of windows. The notes will be visible to birds and help them keep from crashing into the glass.

See our information on Injured Birds if you need help.

Cold Weather

Northern Cardinal (female) - Cardinalis cardinalis Atlanta, GA - Peachtree Park - February, 2010

female Northern Cardinal in the snow

When you are sitting by the fire in January and it’s dark and below freezing, ever wonder how the birds outside are doing?   How do they stay warm and where do they find food and water?

Turns out body heat, especially at night, is a precious commodity.  Birds are very small after all.  When birds roost for the night they get all snuggled into a protected spot and try to stay there preserving their body heat.

What The Robin Knows“… conservation of energy is a major priority for all animals, but especially for birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers.  This bird may well die by dawn.)” from  What the Robin Knows  [11]

So be careful when taking out the trash on a below-freezing night.  If that means you might walk past shrubbery where someone has roosted for the night, it’s better to wait until morning.

Birdbath with heater

Birdbath with heater

Food and water are critical as well.  Help out with bird seed and suet and keep one or two bird baths free of ice with a bird bath heater.

Watch these birds as they come to a suet feeder for food when there is snow on the ground.

This is where leaving seed heads from summer flowers really pays off – see our blog ‘Brown is Beautiful‘.   And there’s more information under the ‘Food’ topic on our page ‘Learn About Wildlife Friendly Habitat‘.

How You Can Help

Provide good HabitatFood, Water, Shelter and Trees & Plants
Avoid chemicals and plants treated with Neonicotinoids
Be aware
Do Citizen Science (see below)

Learn More and Have Fun

Get Outside (where the birds are)

Use Online Resources

Engage Locally

Do Citizen Science


[1]    The Royal Society Publishing – Urban birds have broader environmental tolerance
[2]    Science Daily – City Birds Better Than Rural Species In Coping With Human Disruption
[3]    The State of the Birds
[4]    Cornell – All About Birds – Not just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species
[5]    Wikipedia – Atlantic Flyway
[6]    Atlanta Audubon – Bird Checklists
[7]    Cornell – All About Birds
[8]    Cornell – Merlin app
[9]    Atlanta Audubon – Injured/Orphaned Birds
[10]  Cornell – All About Birds: Coopers Hawk – Life History
[11]  What The Robin Knows – Jon Young

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