First time feasters at my new backyard bird feeder

On Friday afternoon, I walked into the backyard and saw something surprising and exciting – birds at my bird feeder for the first time! After nearly two months of patiently waiting, they had finally found my feeder! I was so excited I sat down and watched them for the next hour. Let’s go back to the start…

A Dark-eyed Junco sings from a snowy perch.

It was a cold, mid-December Saturday after a week of unusual snowfall in Victoria. I had recently been perusing the pages of various backyard birding books. One in particular (Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips: Hundreds of Easy Ways to Attract the Birds You Love to Watch by Debborah L. Martin) had got me thinking about bird feeders. It seemed suddenly not only plausible to keep up with the maintenance I had once thought too much, but also perfect for the birds given the weather. I always worried before about the cons of bird feeding: it would feel like cheating, it would spread disease and attract mice and I’d rather just get to see them by chance.

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee silhouette in the snow.

…and then I went birding for a year, read birding books and saw other feeders out and about and how cool it was to watch. So, after careful research on bird feeder care, what type of feeder and seed to get and how to position it in a safe, attractive spot, I went out and purchased my first bird feeder.

The first day I put it out in December, I watched and waited. I sprinkled some seeds on the ground to try to attract birds’ attention. A couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees took advantage of the fallen seeds, leaving little prints in the snow, but no one else came.


I was nearly ready to give up on my backyard feeding when suddenly the chickadees found my feeder on Friday! After another good snowfall earlier last week, things were thawing out. Maybe that’s what finally attracted the birds to my feeder.

I knew once the Chestnut-backed Chickadees showed up, everyone else would follow! At first, the chickadees monopolized the feeder, quickly flying in and out. Over time, they seemed more comfortable and spent more time on the feeder. They would often wait in line on nearby branches for the feeder to become available.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees were, not surprisingly, first at my feeder! Perhaps this one is loudly telling everyone else where the good food is at.

Soon enough, my second visitor was the Red-breasted Nuthatch. At first, he seemed shyer and more sensitive to disturbances and was very quick about visiting the feeder, but boy was I wrong! I read that they tend to rule the feeders, being small and mighty, kicking everyone else off! By day two, I was definitely seeing such behavior from him. He’d buzz in, chirping loudly, sometimes aggressively chasing away the chickadees before landing in for his mealtime.

Aside from the stars of my show so far, I’ve also had lots of beautiful Dark-eyed Juncos feeding off the seeds spilled onto the ground, as well as a lone Song Sparrow. Oh, and the squirrels of course…they like to come clean up the area after the birds have about finished.

Now that I have my feeder, I don’t regret it for a moment! I still worry over spreading disease and attracting predators, but I take appropriate steps to prevent both. I am so excited to see what other birds come to visit and to continue watching my regulars, too! I’ve already noticed much I had missed about them before, like the flight pattern of the chickadee. The best surprise yet? Happening to spot two Varied Thrush in the backyard because I was watching my feeder. I probably would never have seen them had I not been looking that way already!

While watching my feeder, I spotted two Varied Thrush in the backyard! I’d heard them before and identified them by their distinct sound, but could never spot them to confirm. Guess I definitely know they are back there now and I feel so lucky to have these beautiful Pacific Northwest natives in my own yard!

The Varied Thrush, elusive denizen of the Pacific Northwest

When I first spotted this bird, I had no idea they were considered under such threat and limited to a fairly small geographic range because they prefer old-growth coniferous forests. It turns out I later learned the Varied Thrush is on the Audubon Society’s List of Priority Birds primarily based on habitat loss and continuing threats. You may recognise some other familiar, more famous faces alongside the Varied Thrush on the list including the Bald Eagle, the Brown Pelican and the Whooping Crane.

Varied Thrush

I spotted it very near the top of a tree in a forest garden. The orange belly caught my eye. At first glance, I thought it was an American Robin, but the shape was different to me. When I noticed the black breast-band and knew it was something else. At first glance, they look similar, but are actually quite distinct although they are part of the same family. The Varied Thrush has a beautiful slate-gray back with and orange breast, the black breast-band an an orange stripe above the eye.

This was my first Varied Thrush sighting, and I haven’t had one since. No wonder – it turns out they are quite shy birds. He stayed quite still up in the tree and when I slowly inched a bit closer to get a shot, he didn’t seem to mind. I spent some time just watching him sit up in the tree, like a sentinel of the Pacific Northwest forest.

Varied Thrush

They can be found in the Pacific Northwest all year long, but will breed as far north as Alaska and winter all the way down to California. I didn’t hear it, but the Varied Thrush is famous for his eerie, buzzing song (have a listen here). Consider yourself lucky if you spot this beautiful bird yourself, or even if you hear its song while walking through the towering Douglas Fir!

The Varied Thrush from the Audubon Society Guide to North American Birds
The Varied Thrush from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology