For the Birds: What will be your 2020 Bird Totem?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Bewick's Wren feeding bug to nestlings
Photo by Greg Pluth

By Christine Southwick

Look outside — what is the first bird that you see New Year’s Day?

That is your 2020 bird totem!

What does that mean? Get your kids to help you find out everything you can about this bird species (We need young birders).

Fox Sparrow in heated bath
Photo by Chris Southwick
How many eggs does the female lay? What do the eggs look like; color, size? What does the nest look like? 

What does that bird use to make its nest — grasses, moss, spider webbing, feathers, dog or cat hair? 

Do both the parents build the nest, or does the female do all the work? 

Some birds will have more than one brood — is the species you saw one of those?

Is it a ground nester or a cavity nester? If it is a ground nester, you need to protect them from cats (and loose dogs); if it is a cavity nester, it will need trees in which to nest -- you can put up an appropriate nest box.

Does this bird feed and rest in bushes and branches, or does it mainly forage on the ground? Native plants, especially those with berries and flowers will help and draw in the most birds. Some birds need evergreen trees (like Chestnut-backed Chickadees), others need more open areas (like Dark-eyed Juncos and most sparrows).

Oregon Junco finding food in lawn
Photo by Chris Southwick
Pesticides and herbicides poison bugs that birds need, and don’t make our environment better — some of these herbicides even cause cancer in humans and probably pets.

In the wintertime, giving birds seed or suet will help many individuals survive cold and wet times. 

We humans have taken away so much of their habitats that it is only fair that we make our yards the best habitats for birds that we can.

Where can you find all these answers about your 2020 totem? We have several great local bird books:

Birds of Puget Sound by Dennis Paulson, 2016; 

Birds of Washington by Stan Tekiela, 2001; and 

Kenn Kaufman has a great book, Field Guide to Birds of North America which clearly shows identifying points.

Townsend's Warbler- a year-round resident
Photo by Chris Southwick
Also, here are two websites that can help: Bird Web and All About Birds

Get to know your totem bird — watch it and learn its mannerisms — you’ll be amazed at how much you will enjoy getting to know this species.

I can’t wait to see who my totem will be this year!


Ramona Gault,  December 30, 2019 at 8:33 AM  

Christine, what an inspiring & informative article! I'm trying to make my yard hospitable to birds but there's a big problem I don't know how to solve. At least two cats come over the fence into the yard frequently. Last summer one of them destroyed junco nestlings TWICE. I don't know whose cats they are and there's no way to find out; I can't follow them home. Any suggestions? I'm thinking of trapping them. I love cats but mine are 100% indoors. Thanks in advance.

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