Birding the Canopy

While we associate birds with trees, most of the species recognized by the general public are those that inhabit the shrubbery, feed on the ground or readily come to feeders; cardinals, mourning doves, crows, chickadees, house sparrows, blue jays, robins, starlings, goldfinches, hummingbirds, flickers and pigeons come to mind. On the other hand, birds that inhabit and feed in the forest canopy are essentially unknown to most people and can be a challenge to observe, even for the avid birder.

Tanagers, red-eyed vireos, yellow-throated warblers, cedar wax-wings, great crested flycatchers, warbling vireos, yellow-throated vireos and a variety of small flycatchers are among the species that favor the upper branches of woodlands. The best way to observe many of these birds is to visit a gorge or stream valley where hilltop overlooks or rock outcrops offer a view of trees from above. At such locations, a birder can view the canopy at a comfortable angle and observe the avian residents without enduring neck strain; in addition, the birds can usually be observed in good light (in contrast to their shadowy appearance from the ground).

By taking advantage of the topography, beginning bird watchers may rapidly add a new group of species to their life list. Indeed, this convenient means of observing common but hidden species may prove just as rewarding as travelling to other parts of the country. Stuck in our routines of exploration, we often overlook the diversity of our home environment.