Above: With its black and white head and brown, grey, and white body, the chestnut-backed chickadee almost disappears in the light and shade created by a tangle of branches. One way to attract birds to your home is to make sure that you plant many shrubs and small trees to provide them with shelter and cover.
ONE EARLY MORNING RECENTLY, I opened the door to let the dogs out and heard a sound I hadn't heard all winter long: one long note followed by another long, lower pitched note. I knew it was a bird song, but which bird?
Birding friends told me that this was probably the "fee bee" call of the black-capped chickadee, which means that the birds are setting up their territories and getting ready for mating season. (The sound was so unlike the chickadee-dee-dee I'm used to hearing from these fellows that it never occurred to me that I could be hearing the same little birds I've been feeding all winter long.) But how to confirm? Fortunately, I happen to know of a fantastic resource of bird information on the Internet: the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu. This website has a large section titled "All About Birds," http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds, where you'll find an introduction to birding, an online guide to birds (complete with recordings of their songs), information on birding "gear" and on conservation, and -- perhaps most important for the wildlife-friendly gardener -- information on how to attract birds to your home. This site is well worth a visit.