Do you have a yard list? A lot of birders keep a yard list, a tally of the different species they’ve seen or heard in their yard. With the advent of eBird and the ease of entering bird sightings on my iPhone, iPad, or desktop, it’s awfully easy to keep track of a yard list, or other area list. I really didn’t ever formally keep ANY list, until I started entering bird reports in eBird. Now I not only know how many species I’ve seen in my yard, but I also know how many I’ve seen in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, and the U.S. as a whole. A handy tool that made a “lister” out of a non-lister in myself!
My yard list isn’t all that fantastic. I only have 52 species. We’ve lived in our house for 8 years now, so 52 species isn’t all that impressive. It’s a new house, with landscaping I myself put in 8 years ago when we built the house. Without mature landscaping and bigger trees, you do limit the species you can find! I do have a few nice “yard birds” though. There’s an active Bald Eagle nest just a mile from my house, and it’s not rare to see one of them soaring overhead. When we first built the house and moved in, it was an incredibly rainy September and there were no other houses built around us yet. there was a Lesser Yellowlegs in the muddy pools in the backyard. Nice to get a shorebird in a suburban backyard! The best yard bird was from 2 winters ago though. I’d never had Common Redpolls in the yard, and it was a tremendous winter for Redpolls across the region. I had a group of about a dozen Redpolls regularly visiting when one day, my young son looked out at the feeder and said “what’s the white one”? It was a Hoary Redpoll, a real rarity, and a bird that really stood out from his “common” cousins. A great yard bird, and one that several folks came over to see.
An even better yard bird happened to land in the back yard of a good birding friend from work. Alas, it happened before I became a birder and I never saw it, but he had birders flock to his yard from across the region to see the mega-rarity. A lifetime birder who had never seen a Great Grey Owl, my friend looked out one winter, and lo-and-behold, a Great Grey Owl was perched in his backyard. Why is this better than my very rare Hoary Redpoll? Up until my friend’s backyard visitor, the ONLY Great Grey Owl ever seen in South Dakota was a dead one that was found. His was the first live bird ever seen in the state, and to this day it remains the only Great Grey Owl seen in South Dakota.
The Hoary Redpoll was a nice addition to my yard list, and the Great Grey Owl certainly was a highlight for my friend, but neither can touch the new yard bird from Joe Fitzgibbon in New Mexico. An avid birder, he had recently made a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona to try and spot a California Condor. He didn’t have any luck. A little while later, while at home, he saw a very large bird land in his backyard. It was…you guessed it…a California Condor!! It was the first Condor seen in New Mexico in likely over a century. Not a bad yard bird! In the pecking order of great yard birds, I’d say Fitzgibbon’s Condor trumps my Hoary Redpoll and my friend’s Great Grey Owl!!
That’s part of the excitement of birding. You never know what you may find when you venture out on a birding trip. And on occasion, just a casual glance out the kitchen window might yield the surprise of a lifetime.