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Backyard birding makes a great scavenger hunt

A Carolina wren perches upon a backyard privacy fence. The common species can be seen in backyards, neighborhoods, and local parks. Staff photos by Daniel Clifton

You can still go on an adventure while staying safe at home. Just keep it close to home, such as a backyard birding scavenger hunt.

Similar to a traditional scavenger hunt, during which participants search for items on a list, your goal is specific birds. The first person or team back with a completed list wins!


Kay Zagst, an avid Highland Lakes birdwatcher, helped compile a list of birds common to the area for local hunts. The list below is by no means comprehensive but offers a good starting point.

No prior knowledge of birds is necessary. Thanks to technology, help identifying birds is at your fingertips. Zagst pointed out two useful apps: Merlin Bird ID and iNaturalist. Both are free and easy to download to your smartphone or tablet.

Using Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you enter your location and the app gives you a database of birds found in the region. Enter a description of a bird in a step-by-step identification process for photos of possible matches.

Or, snap a photo of a bird and upload it to Merlin Bird ID for identification.

A joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, the iNaturalist database is compiled by scientists as well as people who spot a bird, identify it, and upload photos. You can also search around your home or local park for other animals or plants.

Common in the Highland Lakes, house sparrows are easy to spot in a backyard bird scavenger hunt. You don’t have to be an expert birder, or have any experience at all, to enjoy bird spotting in your own backyard or neighborhood. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Parents can break down scavenger hunt lists by age: kids 4-6 years can try to spot three to four birds; kids 7-8 can try for five to six; and ages 9-12 can aim for seven to eight.

A good list of birds to start with includes:

  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern mockingbird
  • white-winged dove
  • English house sparrow
  • turkey vulture
  • black vulture
  • blue jay
  • lesser goldfinch
  • black-crested titmouse
  • Carolina chickadee
  • Eurasian starling
  • house finch
  • great-tailed grackle
  • hummingbird (the more common black-chinned with extra points for a ruby-throated)

The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are also good resources for birding.

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