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Magical times for bird watchers

DWR identifies sources to help you find and identify birds

Spring and early summer are magical times for birdwatchers.

Cassin's finch

Cassin's finches are among the song birds that put on a "magic" show this time of the year.

Photo by Ron Stewart

Ron Stewart, a conservation outreach manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says watching birds this time of year is like watching a magic show. "It has all the ingredients," he says, "bright colors, flashy costumes, exaggerated movements and a multitude of sounds to distract your attention away from the real action that's taking place before you."

The real action that's taking place are females blending into the background while the males—decked out in their brightest colors—distract you from seeing the females.

"Now you see it, now you don't," Stewart says.

Another part of the show is the reappearing act. Stewart says late May and June is the time when smaller birds migrate. "In the late spring and early summer," he says, "most of the song birds and many other migratory birds just seem to appear as they migrate into Utah from warmer southern climates. Or, if they've spent the winter in Utah, as they migrate to higher elevations in the state.

"Then, after spending a few days, they disappear again."

Stewart says many of these birds are called song birds "because of the musical boasting they do as they stake out their nesting territories."

Stewart says their songs are actually a combination of messages. Some are sent by males to let the females know how big, strong and important the singer is. Other songs are warnings—usually directed by a male to other males of the same species—to stay away from the male's territory.

Stewart says you can watch the birds' "magic" show in your backyard or up in the hills:

  • Seed-eating birds, such as evening grosbeaks, dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins, American goldfinches and Cassins finches, will readily approach backyard feeding stations. "And it seems like some of the warblers, orioles and even robins are attracted to yards by the sounds of the other birds," he says.
  • Stewart says one of the nice things about living in Utah is almost everyone lives within a short drive of a good birding location—a mountain stream. "Most of the birds that visit backyards are just passing through on their way to nest in the mountains," he says. "As a result, a birdwatcher can see and hear a wide variety of birds just by visiting a nearby mountain stream."
  • Wetlands are also excellent places to see birds. "Wetland birds—ducks, geese, avocets, pelicans, ibis and other shorebirds—are often easier to see because they're larger and are often found in fairly large flocks," he says. "Of course, there is also the marsh wren, which is quite small and almost impossible to watch."

To identify birds and find the best places in Utah to see them, Stewart recommends the following:

  • Get a good field identification book. Field guides printed by National Geographic, Sibley or Peterson are among the best. "These guides give information on how to identify birds as well as when and where you're likely to find them," he says.
  • Good information about some of Utah's best birding sites is available in the "Utah Wildlife Viewing Guide" and in a series of three maps known as the Eastern Utah, Southwest Utah and Great Salt Lake Birding Trail Maps.

    "These maps were compiled by local Audubon Society chapters in cooperation with biologists and outreach managers from state and federal wildlife agencies," Stewart says.

    The trail maps are available at www.wasatchaudubon.org/map_birding_trails.htm.

    The "Utah Wildlife Viewing Guide" is available from Falcon Press and from businesses that sell new and used books. Jim Cole is the book's author.

Once you know where to go, make sure you take a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope with you. These viewing aids will help you discover Utah's wildlife.

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