I live in what could best be described as a “semi-urban” area in a fourth floor apartment. I cal it “semi-urban”, since while there are quite a few apartment buildings in the area, none of them are very large. And there are still plenty of single-family houses with backyards. It’s not quite “suburban”, though. Plots aren’t very big, and just beyond a small parcel of trees behind my building there’s a major commuter rail line. And just another line of trees beyond that is an interstate highway.
The trees are a mixed bunch. Beech, birch, oak, maple, locust, and perhaps others I could identify if I knew enough about trees. There’s a good deal of bushes, too. The copse outside is about a quarter of an acre in size. And my living room window looks right out into it. And with me being on the fourth floor, I’m at the best height for birdwatching.
One indication that this isn’t fully urban is that I cannot recall ever seeing any significant number of pigeons in the area. House sparrows out the wazoo – the vents for the kitchen and bathroom fans in the apartments are convenient nesting sites for them – but no pigeons. The related mourning doves fill in for them. Robins are probably the next most common, but after them things get more varied.
There are the usual suburban forest dwellers – blue jays, cardinals, gray catbirds, and mockingbirds – and starlings, of course. This week, a family of cedar waxwings discovered that one of the trees is in fruit. The berries are a favorite food. I will often sit out there for a little reading; on a recent Sunday I was driven off by some tufted titmice (titmouses?). Not that I’m afraid of them, but when they are five feet away from you screeching like mad, it’s hard to concentrate. A butterfly that must have thought my book was a nectar-filled flower didn’t help, either.
I’ve spotted a couple of orioles and goldfinches over the years I’ve lived here, but those are sporadic sightings. I can also check off downy woodpeckers, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers (which for some reason does *not* have a red belly that I can see), and a white-breasted nuthatch. Chickadees will often show up in the fall and winter.
My favorite time is in late September or early October. Just when the leaves on the trees are getting seriously colorful, a small flock of least flycatchers settles in the area. They are quite acrobatic, and always a delight to observe.
I’ve seen red-tailed hawks soaring overhead, and even the occasional osprey. I’m about a mile away from a coast. A few summers ago, barn swallows decided the apartment building next door would make a good rental. This year, it’s chimney swifts. They may not actually be living next door, but there’s a lot of them in the neighborhood.
If I ever need more diversity, there are a good number of parks, sanctuaries, and preserves a short distance away. But for the most part, I can sit and relax in my living room, and let the birds come to me.
Addendum: Why do the guides and “what bird is that” websites always seem to concentrate on adult males only? What if you spot a female or juvenile, but don’t know that’s what you’re looking at? I went a little crazy once, trying to identify what turned out to be a female cowbird. It wasn’t until after I had given up that I purely by chance stumbled on a photo of one that its identity was confirmed. Then there are the descriptions that give the casual observer (like me) fits. While tracking down the info on those least flycatchers, I read a description for two very similar species that went something along the lines of “the major difference is that this one species has a white eye ring while the other has a yellow one”. Wow, that’s a BIG help! Especially when the bird I was interested in had a PALE YELLOW eye ring! Come on guys, a little help here!