Monday, February 15, 2021

5 Minutes in Nature: Backyard bird teamwork

Spotted Towhee in Snow, Washington

Have you ever taken the time to observe how many different types of birds use your yard? In this 5 Minutes in Nature activity, we’ll venture out to appreciate the variety of birds and see how they get along.

This post is part of the 5 Minutes in Nature project, a series of quick activities designed to help you relax and build a deeper relationship with nature — a few minutes at a time.

If you were to identify a few of your backyard birds and look up what they eat, you’d likely see the same menu over and over and over again. In my yard, for example, I find a lot of black-capped chickadees and spotted towhees. Here’s what the chickadee eats: insects and seeds. Here’s what the towhee eats: insects, seeds and berries.

Given that they’re after the same things, it seems like they should be fighting all the time, but they actually exist in harmony. It’s because they feed in different ways. Chickadees flit from branch to branch; towhees feed from the ground.

For this activity, spend five minutes watching the birds in one section of your yard. Take note of the different species of birds and pay close attention to where each type feeds. Notice how the mess that one bird makes may be the buffet enjoyed by another.

You can do this activity any time of year, but I think winter allows for easier observation. There are fewer sources of food, so the birds tend to congregate more frequently.

It is a difficult time for the birds, however, and I made sure to give them space. All of these images were captured using a Canon 600mm lens with a 2x teleconverter, allowing me to create close-up images even though I was at least 30 feet away.

If you have a bird feeder in your yard, that’s an obvious place to look, but any shrubs, particularly around the edge of your property are also likely to be hotspots.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee in Snow, Washington

In my yard, chickadees and nuthatches first looked for food in my rhododendron bushes and then they flew over to the feeder. They went for the smaller seeds, spilling the larger ones. Minutes later, juncos and towhees would hop on the ground, cleaning up the mess.

Dark-Eyed Junco in Snow, Washington

A foot of snow — unusual for the Seattle area — made it easy to see the food that fell. If you don’t have snow, watch how the birds hop. Sometimes they use their feet to scrape the ground to unearth food.

After you try the activity, feel free to share your observations in the comment section below. Here are the birds in this post: spotted towhee (top), chestnut-backed chickadee (center), dark-eyed junco (bottom).

(Follow Kevin Ebi's photography on Facebook or Instagram. Prints of his images are available through

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