Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Definition of a Backyard

With the sighting of another new visitor -- a boldly colored male Western Tanager in his vibrant breeding plumage -- I'm coming to question the definition of where, precisely, the boundaries of one's backyard are. This bird, for example, did not alight within the invisible property lines that border my backyard. Instead, several of the birds perched in a tree in an adjacent yard, barely across the fence and easily visible from both the upstairs and downstairs windows where I sought a better view. The bold red head, brilliant yellow body, and strong black wings with thick markings made identification easy, yet still, were the birds truly in the backyard?

So what, then, defines a backyard for birding purposes? At first, one might say feeding. If a bird regularly stops for a bite, it could be considered a proper addition to a backyard roll call. But what of the Cooper's hawk? I've yet to spot him having a quick munch in the yard, yet he's a regular visitor, perching on the fence as he calculates the likelihood of his next meal coming from the smaller birds who regularly visit my feeders.

Frequency might be another determining factor. Migrating birds, then, pose special challenges as they may only be seen for a few days each year as they pass by on their way to breeding grounds or winter homes. The dark eyed juncos, for example, have moved on to their more northern homes and won't return for months, if they even recall this small sanctuary. Yet I would say that they, too, are legitimate backyard birds even if they aren't always evident.

At this time, I'm considering the western tanagers to have been a fleeting visit and a wild confirmation rather than a positive backyard sighting, yet I'll keep a keen watch for them in the coming days and they may even be pleased to find dried and fresh fruit in my feeders to help tempt them to a longer stay.

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