Backyard Birding

So the monkey has been thinking about birds lately. His home sits in a bit of niche valley near the northern edge of the Santa Monica mountains with open space behind and tall, surrounding ridges that lead south to the ocean about six miles away (as the crow flies). Kongo sees lots of birds. Western gulls fly back and forth to Anacapa Island, a large covey of quail live in a stand of manzanita behind the back fence, an occasional golden eagle will perch in an oak tree behind the manzanita, hawks hunt overhead, finches and oriels visit in the morning, hoot owls sweep low over the yard in the early evening like a B-1 bomber, and there are plenty of scrub jays and woodpeckers about.

A Nuttal’s Woodpecker Visits the Studio

A few weeks ago Kongo awoke in the middle of the night with an epiphany. He would make a bird studio and capture images of all the visiting feathered friends. He wanted it to look “natural” of course so he thought about that for a few days. Then he went to nearby beaches in search of natural looking driftwood to act as perches.

One of Kongo’s “natural” tree stumps mounted near salvia and kangaroo paw plants.

Next he drilled some holes in the driftwood to hold seeds, chiseled away bits of wood to expand the feeder cup, and mounted these sections on leftover rebar rods from a backyard remodel project last summer.  He stocked the “natural” perches with “gourmet” birdseed, set up a long lens on a tripod, and camped out in the backyard every sunrise to capture the avian crowds that were sure to come.

Kongo’s Backyard Setup

So for a solid week nothing happened. It was a bird desert. A bird ghost town. Nothing came to the carefully crafted feeders. Kongo would spend about three hours each morning drinking coffee and playing scrabble on his iPad sitting behind his camera waiting for the birds. In the morning when she finally arose, Mrs. Kongo would open the back door and say ,”are you and the birds having fun?”  Kongo’s reply was always, “just me.” It’s nice to watch the sun come up but this wasn’t what the monkey had in mind. Finally, they came.


Squawking California Scrub Jays were the first to arrive. They picked through the gourmet food for peanuts. Jays really like peanuts.


Woodpeckers were a bit more reticent but they came too.

Cowbirds Showed Up for the Party

Little Bushtits showed up as well.


So after a week the world in the backyard was all right for the monkey. Now there are birds galore. They take turns according to some unwritten hierarchy that says the big birds get head of the line privileges and the jays will always push off the other birds who wait patiently for their turn.


This is a calming hobby and the monkey recommends it to anyone with a backyard.

Of course you can use any type of wood to build your bird studio setting. Kongo likes driftwood because it is very light, easy to carve in the shape you want, and actually looks nice when placed among blooming flowers. He has other ideas for IR-triggered flashes, bird call music, and a super fast, super telephoto lens to get wing flutter when the birds are landing and taking off. This could get expensive.

Travel safe. Have fun. Happy birding.


4 thoughts on “Backyard Birding

  1. What a great setup! I love how natural it looks and you used natural driftwood. I am already a birdie person. Let’s not even mention how much I spend on 40 pound bags of corn to feed the wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, ducks, and one peahen! It’s a great hobby!

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