Back to Nature (Published on - March 16, 2006)
Spring: It’s time for backyard birding in Florida
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
American Goldfinches dine on thistle seed in the warmth of the morning sun.
Florida is a birder’s paradise, thanks to its diversity of habitats, its location on migration routes, the extent of its remaining wild lands, and its geographic span of both temperate and subtropical climates.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, more than 470 verified species occur here, including such sought-after birds as the rare Florida Burrowing Owl the Florida Scrub-Jay, the Snail Kite and Florida’s wealth of wading birds. In other words: we’re blessed.

Florida backyard birding is as effortless as placing an everyday store-bought feeder in a nearby tree or upon a post in front of a big window with a view. You’ll be amazed at the variety of species that come to visit. Expand your experience by choosing different varieties of feeders and food.

To enjoy finches and grosbeaks, hang a long, column feeder specially designed to hold minute thistle seeds. At the beginning of March, the American Goldfinch will certainly delight you with their cheery song and bright yellow plumage.

Want to expand? Fill another feeder with safflower seeds only. The nuthatches, titmice, cardinals and Carolina Wrens will be knocking at your door. Happily the squirrels prefer to eat anything else but safflower seeds, only visiting the feeder when they have nothing else to do.

If your property has room, install a squirrelproof feeder on a post with a nutritious, all-purpose, commercial brand of wild bird seed. I call this my “potluck” feeder. We just never know who will drop by and visit here. This feeder tends to be for layovers along the flyway attracting wayward travelers while providing us with unexpected surprises, such as the Orchard Oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

If you aren’t already familiar with these species you’ll quickly learn to recognize Florida’s more commonly seen birds such as: Blue jay, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, cardinal, Common Grackle, European Starling, Grey Catbird, mockingbird, Mourning Dove, Red-Winged Black Bird, (although seasonal) American Robin and Northern (Baltimore) Oriole and Monk Parakeets (quakers).

On occasion, you’ll have the opportunity to view tropical strays (or escapees), such as: Black-Hooded Conure, Ring-Necked Parakeet and the more common budgerigar. Still want to expand? Purchase or build a few nest boxes. There are many kinds to choose from. My favorite is our Screech Owl nest box. What a joy it is to observe the fluffy, alien-looking, fledglings upon their first venture into the outside world.

Expanding your backyard birding experience beyond the feeder also can be accomplished by introducing native or naturalized (noninvasive) plantings and plenty of water. Our (scrubbed clean) birdbaths seem to attract as many visitors as our feeders.

Would you like to attract hummingbirds naturally? Plant: Firebush - Hamelia patens and Wax Myrtle - Myrica cerifer. These two plants are my absolute favorites. You may also try Callistemon or bottlebrush tree (naturalized), Callicarpa Americana or beautyberry, Walter’s Vibernum, pentas, Purple Passionflower and plumbago to set out a welcome mat.

Check with your local nursery or log on to the Florida Native Plants

Society’s Web site: Inviting insects into your garden, such as little green bees and butterflies create a garden that becomes a natural habitat for birds.

Beyond your backyard: The Florida Birding Trail makes it easy for all birders – both casual and expert – to discover the exciting pastime of birding. Trail literature details what species to expect at each site and what kind of an experience each offers: a quick stop versus an all day hike, or a driving loop versus a foot-access only property. To get you started on your birding experiences the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has built a superb Web site with excellent information for beginner to advanced birders.

Even if you begin with just a simple “dollar store” variety feeder and a handful of sunflower seeds you’re guaranteed to be rewarded.

Karen can be reached at

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