Be Your Own Birder

Defining the Yard

Every backyard birder, before they first see a single bird, has to do one thing – define  “backyard” for their own birding purposes. There are many options, and as many unique yard definitions as there are backyard birders and birding styles, such as…

  • All front, back and side yards, property lines, even the skies above the yard
  • All area that may be seen while standing in said yard, no matter at what distance
  • Just one part of the yard or other, such as only the backyard
  • A specific feeding or watering area meant solely to entice birds
  • An entire neighborhood or community, especially if it is frequently walked or explored
  • A nearby patch, such as a local park, refuge or sanctuary that is frequently visited

It is completely up to you how how define your own yard for your backyard (or front yard) birding purposes – this is part of being your own birder. For me, my “yard” is within my property lines, including fences, trees, the roof of the house or anything anchored to the property. I do not personally include the skies above my property, however, even if birds were to soar directly above the house. For my definition, just because the bird happens to be passing by above, doesn’t mean my yard is at all attractive to the bird in any way. If I’m doing well for attracting birds, the birds will land and enjoy what I’ve offered. I may never have a vulture or eagle land in the yard and never be able to count them on a yard list, but I’ll still be content.

For now, my yard is largely a blank slate, with very little in terms of organization or structure. I’m thrilled to have mature oak trees, dangling Spanish moss, an overgrown thicket-like patch of palmettos and vines, and several other plantings around the property, but it’s only the beginning. I intend to add not only bird-friendly features, but also plants and water to welcome all wildlife – and we’ve had some interesting encounters already. On one hand, it’s a delight to have such a yard to transform as I wish, but it’s also overwhelming to want to do it right without long-term hassles of redoing the work.

Blank Slate Backyard – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

My plan, for now (and we all know how quickly plans can change), is to take it slow, adding small things each year to build a wildlife-friendly habitat that reflects the wonderful diversity of my climate and region. I do hope to add a few more trees, particularly in places where adding privacy is desired, as well as replacing fencing to be more weather-friendly. I’d like to subdivide the yard with short walls or other hardscaping, and I’m mulling over the idea of an arbor and trellis rather than a gate into the back, as well as additional structures – arbors, pergolas or possibly a gazebo – in the back eventually. There will be a sitting area where I may both work and enjoy the birds, and there will be flowers, shrubs, berries and more. What there won’t be is a lot of turf grass, and hopefully, not a lot of strenuous maintenance. It’s a birder’s dream yard, and while that dream may yet be mostly unrealized, I have confidence in doing it my own way and welcoming the birds each and every day.

How do you define your yard? Share your favorite yard features in the comments!

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