The neat thing about so called “backyard birds” is that they’re everywhere. No matter how urban our environment or how far from the wild we live, they’re usually just a few feet away.

They’re the birds in the trees right outside our windows or in the bushes alongside city streets, the ones we’re most likely to hear when we’re out and about on our ordinary business or even in our own homes.

Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser, a Western Washington birder who teaches classes on how to identify birds by song, said learning to know birds by ear “opened up a whole new dimension to daily life.”

Here are nine backyard birds to listen for in early spring in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, as well as a few comments from Neufeld-Kaiser.

Pine siskins have a distinctive “zipper” call and also are susceptible to a disease outbreak associated with backyard feeders this year. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, 2017)

Pine siskin (Spinus pinus)

The songs and calls of the pine siskin frequently include a long “zipper” call that gets higher and higher in pitch. This resident passerine (a bird with feet for perching) is among those especially vulnerable to a deadly salmonella outbreak across the northwestern United States that’s prompted officials to ask people to leave their feeders down until at least April.

Golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

Their song is a series of pure flute-like whistled notes. Some people use the phrase “Oh, dear me,” to help them remember it. This bird is starting to sing now, but it will sing more fully when it heads north to breed in May.

You can learn how to distinguish the song of the chestnut-backed chickadee, above, from the black-capped chickadee. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2011)

Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens)

These charming little birds sound very much like their close relatives, the black-capped chickadees. But they tend to be a bit wheezier sounding and higher in pitch when they call “chickadee.” This is one of my recordings that has both black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees together, for a nice comparison. They were sitting on our suet feeders, calling.

Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) These cuties make charming nasal “beep” calls. They are the focus of an Audubon project, “Climate Watch.”

The Northern Flicker makes a distinctive courtship call. This one was photographed in Seattle’s Discovery Park. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2016)

Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

These birds have a very charming call that plays a role in courtship, which sounds like “wicka, wicka, wicka.” It’s a call made by both males and females when there are at least two, often three or four flickers interacting. And it can be accompanied by a head-bobbing courtship “dance.” 

House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Their song is a melodious, burbling, cheerful jumble of rollicking notes. They are not singing at full steam yet, but stay tuned.

California scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica)

These corvids are being seen more and more frequently in Seattle as their range expands northward. In Washington, the breeding population stretches up into King, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

A Steller’s Jay, photographed in North Seattle. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Our native jay is seen more and more in the cities. Its call can sometimes be called abrasive.


But it is also known to give an excellent imitation of a red-tailed hawk.

A song sparrow belts out its song to all those listening at Volunteer Park this week.  (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Their name is well-deserved: Their songs start with a few firm, definitive notes and then tumble through a series of buzzes, trills and swooping whistles. 

How song sparrows use their song to warn off intruding song sparrows has been studied by researchers at the University of Washington.

An Anna’s hummingbird, puffed up in the rain at Magnuson Park, is among the birds you may hear these days. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
Listen to 9 more birds you’re hearing now in the Seattle area