Bird watching is about more than just getting up early and heading to your closest body of water (although that is a great place to start). Sometimes just keeping your eyes open as you go about your life can lead to some amazing moments. You may only have a cell phone to take pictures, or maybe you don't even have that, but if you look around you never know what you might see. I like to keep a small pair of binoculars in my car just in case. A day going to the store might turn into an impromptu bird watching trip!

An Unexpected Wren Nest

wrens making a bird nestbird nest in the wrong place

One of the keys to successfully attracting birds to your own yard (instead of going out searching for them) is keeping your bird feeders full. That's why it's so important to make your feeders easy to reach and refill. I made a mistake in where I placed one feeder this year and I let it stand empty too long. When I finally got around to checking on it, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Some wrens were starting to make a nest inside my unattended bird feeder. I had a choice to make — reclaim my feeder for the other birds or leave these tiny (and very vocal) little songbirds to enjoy their work in progress.

What would you do? I gave the feeder to the wrens and then began carefully watching them each evening. They grew accustomed to my observations and after a few days I was able to shoot a picture of one as it came and went from its nest. It was a real treat to be able to observe their nest so closely. Eventually the babies grew up and left their ad hoc nest, leaving me to clean out a bird feeder / bird house.

A Strawberry Thief

young robin bird on a fence

Few things are as exciting as seeing that first robin of spring. We watch with anticipation for the birds to visit, giving us hope that winter will soon end. By the end of summer; however, robins seem to be everywhere. It's easy to forget how much we enjoyed them when they first arrived.

I was reminded of just how much I like these birds when I saw a young robin perched on my back fence. Its parents were nearby, showing the youngster how to hop down from my fence and then fly back up to its perch. To my surprise (and dismay), I saw one of the robins hop off the fence and head right for my strawberry plant. It picked a juicy red strawberry and then showed its young how to peck at it. It was an amazing moment to watch, although I was a bit sad to see more of my strawberries disappear in front of my eyes. I'm sure the robins will be back again next year to sample the strawberry crop.

Parking Lot Gulls

gulls in a parking lotjuvenile ring billed gull

Ring-billed gulls are common in the area, and I see these scavenger birds often when I'm out and about. They are very adaptable and while some people may find them intimidating, a flock of gulls can make a shopping trip more interesting. On this particular day I slowed down to look at a flock of gulls that were resting in a nearby parking lot. This may sound terribly unexciting but as I watched the birds take off and land, I noticed one that stood out in the sea of white.

This bird had a special look to it — with brown spots that were different than all of the birds around it. This juvenile gull must have been much younger than the other birds, as his coloring was unique. I quietly observed this gull and reflected on how rarely we stop to notice the little differences around us. It was a real treat to see an everyday bird transformed into a tiny piece of art.

A Vocal Cardinal

female cardinal bird in the grass

On another occasion I was walking to my car when I was surprised by a bright-colored friend in the grass nearby. It was a northern cardinal.

Few female birds sing, so I was pleasantly surprised when this female cardinal burst into song as I watched. Her "chirp chirp chirp" was a quite loud and distinctive. Although it didn't seem to bother other birds nearby, I admit to having jumped a bit when she first whistled her song.

A Fearless American Goldfinch

close up of goldfinch bird

One fall afternoon I noticed an american goldfinch bird in a field nearby. He flitted around from plant to plant, eating seeds and giving me a lot of great photos for my collection. He would pause and look at me after grabbing a mouthful of seeds, almost as if to let me know how good they were. These are just a few favorite pictures from an afternoon spent watching a hungry and fearless american goldfinch.

A Lone Cedar Waxwing

cedar waxwing eating insect

Cedar waxwings are very social birds and when you find one, others are usually nearby. Cedar waxwings eat fruit and insects, and can often be found together on fruit trees eating insects. That's why it was so unexpected to find one cedar waxwing on the ground enjoying the grasshopper he had just caught. I watched the lone bird quietly as he enjoyed his meal. I couldn't find any other cedar waxwings in the trees, but I'm sure they must have been nearby watching.


Downy Woodpecker

woodpecker on a suet feeder

Red-bellied Woodpecker

big woodpecker on small feeder

I recently decided to add a suet feeder to my back yard. I've had several bird feeders up but the suet feeders were in another part of the property. We've never had woodpeckers at the other suet feeders, so imagine my surprise when not one but two woodpeckers started eating at this new suet feeder. One is a downy woodpecker but the other, a larger woodpecker, is a red-bellied woodpecker. Both are common in this area — I just didn't know I'd find them at my new suet feeder. It was an unexpected surprise.

A Roadside Hawk

Every once in a while I have a chance to take a long car ride with friends and family. On one such trip I was able to catch a glimpse of a red-tailed hawk hunting near the road. They often wait on light poles when hunting for mice and other prey. How often do we drive along the freeway or country road and never look up? Birds and other examples of nature in action are often closer than we think, and all we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open. What a great way to start our trip!

As you are shopping, traveling in a car or walking around your neighborhood, look for birds around you. You might be surprised at all that you see!

Credits: Young Robin by sjessup via All other photos by photographer Judy_NMMI.