Backyard Birding in Cary with Roger Tory Peterson

Story by Lindsey Chester. Photos by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – I moved to Cary thirteen years ago from a fairly urban area, 15 miles outside of Manhattan. We didn’t see many birds there beside the common robin, sparrow or occasional bluejay. I did a double take when I saw my first bright yellow gold finch in Cary. I simply had to know what this tropical looking bird was!

That’s when I fell in love with Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds.

My Life List of Birds in Cary

Our kitchen features a large triple window that gazes out to a wooded backyard. I didn’t know many birds back then, but every time I saw something new, I grabbed my Peterson and flipped through the colorful paintings organized by bird type and habitat.

Being a Virgo (to be discussed at a later date), I keep track of what I have seen through the years, noting when and where I have seen my fair feathered friends. In over thirteen years, I can attest to the wide variety of species that call Cary home at least part of the year.

One of the most colorful surprises are the bright yellow goldfinches that cannot get enough of my native coneflowers out in the sun by my mailbox. When I pull up my drive, they flutter away across the street in surprise.

In the winter we throw handfuls of birdseed onto my back deck. The array this attracts always amazes me. Of course we have our bright red cardinals and duller mates. But a tri-color bird known as the Rufus Sided Towee is different with it’s rusty sides, black head and brown body.


The Carolina Chickadee, Wren and Blue Jay grab dinner outside my window in the winter, and disappear the rest of the year. And of course I quickly recognised the pert look and multi talented singing of the Mockingbird. And no other bird has the striking hue of the Eastern Bluebird.

Some of the more rare finds include a Pilated Woodpecker, a Red-headed Woodpecker (both seen all winter outside my office window on the sides of Loblolly pine trees. I have even seen magestic American Bald Eagles out at Lake Crabtree, one of whom once flew right in front of my windshield as I drove on Aviation Parkway!

Speaking of Lake Crabtree, for years as I cross the bridge by the airport, I look for (at great peril and not recommended) 2-3 great Blue Herons and the occasional Snowy Egrit. You know you have left New Jersey by all this variety!

Tonight in fact, we spotted the first Ruby Throated Hummingbird of the summer. They finally found my feeder stocked with sugar-water.

What else interests me about all this bird life is the fact that we must have a healthy eco-system here in Cary to be able to support all this variety. An urban area simply does not have the varied food sources that these species need to survive.

On our property we have sweet gum, loblolly pines, pyrocanthus, blueberries, apples, cherries, coneflowers, red petunias, lavender, lilies, crepe myrtle and Ligustrum, all of which provide food and habitat for a variety of bird life. Let’s not even get started on the other wild life that calls my 1/3 acre home!

How to Attract Birds to Your Property

The best way to attract birdlife to your property is to plant trees and shrubs that offer nourishment and shelter. Call it Avian Real Estate Development!

You really need trees – birds don’t usually favor any but the largest shrubs as habitat. They like to be up.

Well developed gardens and beds on your property also provide an abundance of food. Different birds like different things. The cardinals love our figs. The blueberries have never once appeared on our table. The dill attracts butterflies, much to the delight of the birds.

Mixed bird seed is okay, too, especially at the end of the winter when food is scarce. Squirrels will get their fair share of any birdseed you toss around. Birds will get to know your home as a place where they can get a meal if you sprinkle the birdseed on a daily basis.

Cary Bird List

Birds you might see around Cary in the course of a year:

  • Mockingbirds
  • Wren
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Rufus Sided Towee
  • Blue Jay
  • House Finch
  • Gold Finch
  • Assorted Crows and Ravens
  • Barn Owl
  • Red Shouldered Hawk
  • Broad Shouldered Hawk
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Red Headed Woodpecker
  • Pilated Woodpecker
  • Ruby Throated Hummingbird
  • Robin
  • Bluebird
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Cardinal
  • Snow Goose

What birds have you seen around Cary? Add it in the comments and we’ll make an All-Cary Bird List.

Field Guide To Eastern Birds

It’s easy to identify your backyard birds with a copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. You will be surprised at the variety!

Kids love it too, and they have better eyesight than the grownups.

7 replies
  1. Valerie!
    Valerie! says:

    Hal, I think it would be great if you made this a permanent page and possibly gave us a place to share our photos! I’ve already come back to this page several times now for reference, and it’s great to see what other people have added. It would be fun to see and share photos as well. Just thought I’d put my two cents in. :) Even if you don’t make this permanent, it’s been very helpful, so thanks to you, Lindsey and the rest of the people who have commented!

    • Lindsey
      Lindsey says:

      Who knew so many folks were interested?
      Maybe we can do that on the facebook page as we cannot have contributors add their own photos to this site and would require a ton of admin if we do it (resizing and formatting everyone’s photos etc, as well as editing the content) because we only allow folks with passwords to load material to the published site. We will put our heads together though.

  2. Viorica
    Viorica says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Adding to the list of birds seen in Cary:

    – Snowy Egret
    – Green Heron
    – Kingfisher
    – Hummingbird
    – Pigeon
    – Hawk

  3. Hal Goodtree
    Hal Goodtree says:

    Valerie – thanks for writing!

    And Katie, wouldn’t a nice cool ice cream cone at Applegate’s be good right about now? But back to the topic of birds, you’ve seen a lot in a short time. I might have to make a permanent page for this and add pictures.

  4. Katie
    Katie says:

    I grew up in Montclair, NJ (waves to Hal) and we had a great variety of backyard birds. I’ve lived in Cary for 10 months now and to add to your list I’ve seen:

    Mallard Duck
    Hooded Merganser
    Dark-eyed Junco
    Carolina Wren
    Brown-headed Nuthatch
    White-breasted Nuthatch
    European Starling
    Rose-breasted Grosbeak
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Eastern Bluebird
    Ring-necked Duck
    Pine Siskin
    Gray Catbird
    Downy Woodpecker
    Red-bellied Woodpecker
    Belted Kingfisher
    Mourning Dove
    White-throated Sparrow (pretty sure)
    Canada Geese

  5. Valerie!
    Valerie! says:

    I live in an apartment complex in Morrisville, and just this spring, I started putting piles of birdseed outside my front window to see what I could attract. Aside from a few of the birds you’ve mentioned here, I’ve also seen a couple Brown Thrashers and Brown-Headed Cowbirds. They’re so fascinating! I’m so glad I picked up this new hobby — I’ve learned so much in the last few months!

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