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Birding from home in Georgia: An easy guide to exploring nature inside
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A sparrow and Northern cardinal perch on a bird feeder outside of a home in Avondale Estates. - photo by Kelsey Podo

You don’t need to leave your house to embrace the vibrant sounds and sights of spring. Luckily, the only thing separating you from native and migrant birds is a window.

Bird watching offers an engaging activity for all ages. All you need is a pair of eyes, and perhaps binoculars, to begin identifying birds in your neighborhoods. 

The Times spoke with two local veteran birders about their tips and tricks for attracting and spotting birds for all levels of bird watchers.

Seducing the flock

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A red-bellied woodpecker climbs up a bird feeder for its afternoon meal. - photo by Kelsey Podo
Step one to attracting birds to your home — buy a feeder. Wes Hatch, naturalist at Elachee Nature Science Center, recommends filling a bird feeder with mixed seed, which attracts a broad range of species. For those wanting to lure a larger variety, Hatch said suet feeders draw in woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue jays and other birds.

Now that spring has made its way to Hall County, Peter Gordon, Elachee’s director of education, encourages people to put out their hummingbird feeders.

Hatch strongly advises against purchasing the red nectar typically sold at grocery stores because of the harmful health effects they have on hummingbirds. 

“You can make your own, and it’s super simple to do it,” Hatch said. “You only need sugar and water.”

People can make their own clear version of the nectar by mixing one part white cane sugar to four parts water until the sugar dissolves. Make sure to clean out your hummingbird feeder every other day to prevent mold growth, which Hatch said can kill hummingbirds.

For those who live in a rural open area, keep an eye open for purple Martins. Gordon said these large indigo iridescent swallows will begin arriving soon.

To attract this species of bird, he recommends attaching a simple box birdhouse to a fence post or hanging a gourd birdhouse from a tree.

Baltimore and orchard orioles are also two hot species this spring with their vibrant orange plumage. Hatch said people can draw in these birds through hanging a bowl feeder from a tree and filling it with any types of fruit jelly.

Know your birds

Even the most experienced ornithologists stumble every now and then on bird identification. Whether you’re starting with Northern cardinals, American robins and blue jays, or you have a keen eye for sparrows, several tools are helpful for deciphering your neighborhood species.

When Gordon is having trouble placing a name to a bird, he whips out his phone and uses the free Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The app guides people through the identification process by asking simple questions about the size of the bird, its main colors and location. People can also snap a photo of the bird or pull it from their camera roll, and have the app offer a list of possible matches.

“It’s an easy walkthrough,” Gordon said. “The GPS immediately determines what birds you should be seeing in your area.”

Once you think you’ve found your bird, Gordon said the app will provide more information about the species, including its range, calls and different plumages. 

Hatch’s go-to bird identification tool is The Sibley eGuide to Birds app, which offers over 6,600 images of 810 North American bird species. Other details are provided including the silhouettes of birds, what they look like in flight, their calls and range maps. 

The app also allows people to compare different types of birds.

“Let’s take a Northern cardinal and American robin,” Hatch said. “You can click on them, and look at what the male, female and juvenile cardinals look like.”

Sibley additionally sells printed guides for people who would rather flip through a book than scroll through a phone.

People can download a checklist of birds found in Georgia by visiting Atlanta Audubon Society’s webpage, atlantaaudubon.org.

Open your eyes for these spring migrants 

Each spring Gordon walks around bodies of water to gaze upon one of his favorite black and white birds of prey — ospreys.

“They’re magnificent birds,” Gordon said. “It’s always a wonderful ritual of spring. Anybody that lives near a lake, look for towers. You may see an osprey.”

This season Hatch has started keeping an eye out for broad-winged hawks, which have light brown speckled chests and solid dark brown wings.

“It’s a spring migrant, and it breeds all around Georgia,” Hatch said. “It’s a fun hawk to hear while you’re out in the woods.”

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have already begun their seasonal return, and Gordon expects to see blue grosbeaks and the black-throated green warblers, which have bright yellow heads and a splash of green on their backs.

“Warblers are the jewels of migration,” Hatch said. “As soon as we get some southern winds coming through, they start pushing things. We’re already seeing warblers in the mountains.”

Gordon recommends listening for a “zee zee zoe zee” noise, which black-throated green warblers repeat from treetops.

“Our resident birds are singing their heads off right now,” Gordon said. “All you need is patience and a pair of binoculars to find them.”

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