Backyard Birding for Bucket List – Revisited

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Recently, after the sun went down on a rainy, damp day here in Southern Oregon, there was a treat to be had when putting our garbage outside. An owl was hooting. Rare for us. While a nightly occurrence in our past Arizona life, we seldom hear them here; we agreed maybe less than once a year. (Of course, it doesn’t help if you have the TV chattering away in the evening.)

The owl got me thinking about a post I did some years ago entitled: Bucket List Addition: Backyard Birding Literacy. I was remembering my ‘own’ owls (see the title picture) and was trying to recollect if there were new birds to add to the list I had originally shared. (Hint: there definitely are.)

In that past post, I shared some memoirs of “Friends of a Feather.” Special birds will stick in your mind, especially as you learn to recognize more of them. It was fun to read those unusual reminiscences, and now I have a couple more distinct ones to share, although one a bit heartbreaking.

Last year on the Trans-Canadian highway, I was driving our small van (under the speed limit I would protest) as a strange bird walked out in front of me. Although I assumed the bird would fly, I pumped the brakes as much as I safety could. Unfortunately, I heard that awful thud sound. My eyes closed momentarily as I felt that heart-in-the-throat sensation.

Gloomier still, it was a bird unknown to me. Definitely some type of grouse. We identified it at the time (with the help of David Sibley’s ubiquitous book) as a greater-prairie chicken. This ‘chicken’ is actually a grouse – go figure. But based on location, it may have been a sharp-tailed grouse. Either way, it was sad and distressing to be the cause of its demise. In my defense, you don’t expect birds to be that mind-numbingly unresponsive.

On the same highway, and at a similar, typically barren, isolated strip of it, I saw a bird I had thought perhaps never to see. It was a pileated woodpecker (think “Woody”). It was a short sighting as it glided across the road and up onto the trunk of a large tree (not exactly a scarce size tree for that neck of the woods). I am sure that Woody will never be a backyard species for me, but it was great to enjoy one sighting. It helps me understand that pictures which depict this species are actually accurate in their stunning appearance.

I realize that some prefer the term “life list” to bucket-list. For those with greater sensitivities than me, just mentally read the best term that suits. In my first birding blog, I explained why I’ll never be a birder. I lay out the reasons, but it amounts to knowing oneself and having lazier habits than great birders.

Yet, the point about a bucket list entry was not simply to enjoy birds. It’s more about being familiar with your surroundings, your own milieu that certain birds have chosen to inhabit as well. Remember that you don’t need a whole backyard either. It can be a balcony, patio or window ledge if nothing else.

I wrote “To me backyard birding literacy means you can recognize (and name) some of the birds that so frequency share your environment.” So often we remain unaware. “Our naming-capacity of things like our fine feathered friends can be sadly placed on a perch at the back of our mind, with our ignorance ruffling nary a feather…The motivational bonus accompanying this extra education is that you can easily share your knowledge with guests, friends or grandkids.”

For your convenience, that post contains 4 steps to develop your own approach to backyard birding. For those who never follow a link back to other materials, I will repeat one helpful tip.

Hint: Learn to look at bills and feet (and maybe size) before coloring.
While we are all attracted and drawn to the birds’ color,
there is less deviation or anomaly in the bills and feet.

Below, I will include my original Top-20. Many are common, and hopefully, known to you. But first, I want to brag, oops I mean report, on my new Top 20. Let me explain why I have 20 new ones to add.

I have seen more birds because I look! That’s the key.

I took a birding class once in which the instructor said that hikers are the worst birders. Why? He said it was because they are too busy making ground than looking at the ground (or the trees). You have to look to see. And the more you see, the more amazed you’ll be by your own pocket park.

  1. Barn Swallows or Tree Swallows. Forked tails make swallows easy to notice, although the differences between the many varieties is not as easy. Still, simply recognizing “swallow” may be fulfilling enough for you, and impressive to the person who can only identify ‘bird.’ 😊)
  2. Belted Kingfisher (beautiful blue fisher around many types of water sources ) *
  3. Black-capped Grossbeak
  4. Cassin Finch (in the east, you are more likely to see purple or house finches).
  5. Cedar Waxwing (beautiful, masked bird that’s easy to identify IF you see the bright yellow tip of the tail).
  6. Crow (American Crow). I am going to put Ravens on the same line, as it is fun to learn to differentiate based on the bill. The Raven’s bill looks bulkier and like a bruised nose.
  7. Flycatchers (I still can’t tell one from the next; there are numerous US varieties.)
  8. Hermit Thrush (their distinctive way of hopping across the ground makes them noticeable).
  9. House Wren (a small plain bird that I often have trouble identifying from other wrens, but all have long bills and a ‘flippy’ tail).
  10. Magpie (American Magpie) *
  11. Mountain Quail * (very similar looking to Gambel quails in Arizona).
  12. Pine Siskin (looks a bit like a larger, dull goldfinch).
  13. Red Crossbill
  14. Red-tailed hawk
  15. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (rarely is it actually flashing a peek at its ruby crown).
  16. Swift: White-throated Swift (just because they’re not called ‘chimney swifts’ as in the East, still they can be seen going in and out of chimneys). *
  17. Turkey vultures (beautiful when soaring but with an amazingly ugly face).
  18. Vireos (like flycatchers, I am lucky just to get in the right category for vireos).
  19. Wild Turkeys
  20. Yellow-rumped Warbler (often seen hanging out with goldfinch, but usually seasonal travelers).

*Asterisk indicates I have to go a tiny bit out of my backyard to see this bird (still, generally in nearby neighborhoods).

(My list might be a good one to borrow from since it is not terribly sophisticated and most of the birds are somewhat common in many places in the US)

  1. Acorn Woodpecker
  2. American Robin
  3. Bushtit
  4. Chickadee (many types but this one is a ‘black-capped’, and sometimes we see mountain chickadees)
  5. Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon variety here)
  6. Downy Woodpecker
  7. European Starling
  8. Flicker (Northern Flicker here)
  9. Goldfinch (American Goldfinch)
  10. Hummingbirds (various types, most common here is Anna’s Hummingbird)
  11. Nuthatch (noticeably unique for the way they go head down on the tree trunk)
  12. Orange Crown Warbler (Updated note: turns out this one is more seasonal and rarer than let on in this list).
  13. Red-breasted Sapsucker (thankfully they seem to concentrate on a favorite tree, rather than drilling their little holes in all my trees).
  14. Scrub Jay (not as pretty as the more-eastern Blue Jay in my opinion).
  15. Sparrows (many types but they are less common here than in previous backyards.  The ones I see are probably either Chipping or House Sparrows.  House Finches are a totally different bird, but which I am picking to sneak onto the list.  They look something like sparrows but with red-ish sides or heads; they too are not as common here as in many locations.)
  16. Spotted Towhee
  17. Stellar Jay (saw on TV that these sneaks can mimic owls to scare others away from food).
  18. Thrasher (Sage Thrasher)
  19. Titmouse (Oak titmouse variety where I live)
  20. Varied Thrush (that’s a name, not a category.  Looks a bit like a fancy Robin.)


Birding or being a better birder (never great birder) is one thing on my bucket list. Frankly, the list is long. I have more ideas than I would like to admit that augment my life list. They are scratched down on notes here and there, folded up in a pocket or among stacks of papers to sort. Considering that, I chuckle now reading the final thought of my first blog…

“Hope you will add some of these to your chart, and the whole activity to your Bucket List.  My theory is that the longer our Bucket List becomes, the longer will be our desire to keep on aging (with pizzazz of course).”

Title Picture. Seen here are Western Screech Owl babies.  In Scottsdale for two summers in a row, these pictured owls (and perhaps their relatives) spent about 10 days continually camped out in our backyard.  We were mesmerized by them, and they seemed curious about us.  Later in the year we saw them not at all.  Their nicknames?  Cheech and Chong.

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