Birding on The Greenway and in Your Backyard

12, Apr, 2020

Anthony Laquidara is one of The Greenway’s resident birders and consistently surprises us with the diversity of feathered friends he finds along the park. He has traveled across the country in search of native migrants but still maintains that New England has some of the best birding in the country. Spend a few minutes looking out your window and you may see a few of our native birds fly by; if you’re lucky, you may spot something even more exotic. We invited Anthony to share some of his ornithological wisdom so you can enjoy birding on The Greenway and from your own backyard!

From left to right: Hermit Thrush, Blue Jay, Scarlet Tanager, House Sparrow, Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Goldfinch, Common Yellowthroat, Ring-billed Gull, Northern Flicker, Eastern Towhee, Canada Warbler, White Throated Sparrow, Coopers Hawk, Wild Turkey, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxing, Common Grackle, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

How did you first get you into birding?

It is somewhat of an evolution. I’ve had a lifelong love of birds which, according to family and close friends, is jokingly attributed to a mobile my mom hung over my crib that was of birds. As a youth, I built the bird feeder we had in our yard and I quickly became a “bird watcher”. I became a “birder” back in 2003 when I was having a bad day and I decided I needed to do something. I grabbed a field guide to birds off my bookshelf and vowed to see all the species in it. I quickly learned two things: first that it was not a reasonable goal, and second, that being a “birder” meant I needed to do a lot of traveling, hiking, and searching; even just to see all of our native breeding species which is what I settled on as my goal.  In 2008 I discovered eBird, the world’s largest online birding community and tool for tracking bird sightings, and it certainly changed being a birder for me, so I’d call myself an eBirder nowadays which is the two combined with a citizen science element added in.

What has been your most interesting bird sighting?

Wow, that’s a tough one. Each of the 899 species I have seen has a special story for me. I may have to give it to the Western Reef Heron which I was lucky enough to see on June 30, 2007 – an extremely rare bird to see in North America as it is native to West Africa.

What unique birds can be seen on The Greenway and in urban settings?

In migration, anything is possible! To date, I’ve seen over 80 species on The Greenway. As habitat dwindles everywhere, places like the Boston Common and The Greenway offer a respite during spring and fall migration that is becoming increasingly important. When you take into consideration the fact that the majority of the species we see in North America – or on The Greenway specifically – are traveling many miles to get to and from their breeding grounds. That makes each bird and their story quite unique.

What are some common birds people around Boston might be able to see in their backyards or out of their windows?

That does change with the seasons and it can depend on exactly where you are. On The Greenway, for example, we have our year-round resident birds like the Rock Pigeon, European Starling, and the House Sparrow. What people may not realize is that Herring Gulls breed and nest on the rooftops of our buildings, American Robin and Northern Mockingbird can nest in the trees, and our coolest resident the Peregrine Falcon rears young in the clock tower of the Common House overlooking The Greenway. Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Common Grackle, and Song Sparrow are fun to find there as well.

What are some ways to attract birds to your backyard?

Feeders are a fun thing to experiment with. If you like Woodpeckers, suet is the thing. If you want to see finches – like American Goldfinch, a thistle/nyjer seed socks work great. Striped or black oil sunflower seed is best for songbirds like Northern Cardinal or Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Hummingbird feeders are awesome but they require much more maintenance as you need to keep it fresh, so changing the liquid often is key. After winter, when feeders usually come down, a water aspect, like a birdbath is really important. Keeping squirrels away is tough but if you set up your feeder using the 4ft – 10ft rule you will be fine. What’s that rule? Well, squirrels can’t jump off the ground higher than 4ft, nor can they leap a distance of more than 10ft. So, if your feeder has nothing around it for those distances and you add a baffle below your feeder, then you won’t have squirrels eating it all.

Do you have any advice to people interested in starting birding?

The great thing about birding is that it can be whatever you want it to be. To get started, you don’t really need all that much. In fact, all you really need is the desire to get out and see birds! That said, as far as gear goes, binoculars are important but birding with digital cameras is starting to gain in popularity as well. Whichever way you go, you can be overwhelmed by choices. If a person isn’t already into photography, I do suggest starting with binoculars and recommend Nikon Monarchs because they are reasonably priced. It used to be that you needed a paperback field guide but smartphones & field guide apps are phasing those out. It’s also a really good idea to find a bird walk near you.  The Massachusetts Audubon Society or Brookline Birding Club are organizations that often have free walks lead by a seasoned birder. These walks are a great way to learn some of the basics in a fun and easy way. 

Any other interesting tidbits or stories?

When a person gets caught up in birding as I did, it can take you on some great adventures and to some of the most amazing places. When I devoted myself to seeing all the native breeding species in North America nearly 17 years ago now, I had to do a lot of research on how to even get started. I chose the American Birding Associations’ species coding system to target the 487 species I’d set out to see. As of today, I am one species away from achieving that goal. My plan was to finish my journey this year; with a trip to the last state I need to bird in, Alaska, to see the last species on that list, the Horned Puffin. 

With luck, we will see some amazing birds on their migration through Massachusetts this spring and summer. The peak time for migrants in New England is in the second week of May, so grab your binoculars or log into the free eBird app to start your birding adventure.  Wish you could go out with a seasoned birder to learn more? Anthony has agreed to lead bird walks through The Greenway this summer and/or fall!  Stay up to date with The Greenway and our many offerings on our website and social media! 

Photo Credit: Anthony Laquidara