Winter Wild, in Your Backyard: Tips for Spotting Urban Wildlife in Seattle


1/19 update: It's certainly been a great week for spotting birds and other creatures out and about in the snow! In my 'hood, I've been lucky enough to spend time watching the beavers and hooded mergansers at Meadowbrook Pond. Happy wildlife watching!

I’m the new Out + About editor for ParentMap, which means that part of my job (poor me!) is to get out with my family to experience the abundant cultural, natural and artistic riches of our region.

It’s a good fit. As the mom of a two-year-old son, I am on a constant quest for an activity that will keep both him and me entertained – extra points if it involves physical activity. And now I have another argument in my arsenal to convince my husband – who’s more of a homebody -- to go to a not-yet-experienced park, pond, hike, family concert, festival , fire station tour, or museum exhibit. “It’s part of my job, honey. Sorry!”hummingbird-becauseuarehere-flickr-cropped

Ironically, though, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stay put a little more – and observe the natural drama happening literally in our backyard. We live in a home in North Seattle that is footsteps from Thornton Creek, walking distance from a wildlife-rich pond, and with a backyard that already attracts dozens of species of birds with zero work from us. If we add a little birdseed to our off-again-on-again feeder, or a little sugar water for the hummingbirds – a veritable crowd shows up.

With my resolution in mind, I was interested to read Seattle nature writer Lyanda Haupt’s recent post (on her Tangled Nest blog) about the opportunities that abound in winter for “urban-wild” encounters in the city:

“Winter is considered a time of quiet and hibernation, and often we wait until spring to think about viewing birds and other creatures. But the cold of winter increases the energetic need of wild animals, sending them out to seek food at all hours of the day. It’s one of the best times to watch for urban-wild encounters.”

She goes on to describe the varied thrushes, sharp-shinned hawks, hummingbirds, raccoons and crows visiting her family’s West Seattle backyard. In the process, she re-inspired me to spend even a few extra minutes a day connecting with the creatures right outside our door.

Here are a few other local resources I'm finding helpful:beaver Meadowbrook Pond

Seattle Audubon has endless resources, but particularly useful right now is a tip sheet on keeping your hummingbird feeder up in the winter to keep return visitors happy. Tahoma Audubon and Eastside Audubon chapters are also rich sources.

Field Notes: A terrific blog published by award-winning Seattle Times reporters such as Lynda Mapes on Northwest nature news, from snowy owl sightings to the new baby otter at the zoo.

BirdNote: A KPLU program with two-minute segments on bird song that also weaves in history, birding culture and tips on making your yard bird-friendly.

Birdweb: Audubon’s abundant guide to the birds of Washington State.

Two local books serve as guides to the wildness just around the corner, in any season: Haupt’s Crow Planet; and David Williams’ The Street-Smart Naturalist. Among other things, both will pique your interest in crows, chatty citydwellers who deserve a closer look.

How about you? What are you and your kids seeing outside your window these days? What inspires you to stay put and take a second look?

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