Sentinel birds are particularly noisy and obvious when there is a predator or other threat in their vicinity. They make loud alarm calls and often flush out of cover to high perches where they can easily scan their surroundings to investigate the threat.
Although this behavior is for their own self-preservation, it‘s also very helpful to birders because it makes them easy to hear, spot, and observe. Five birds — American Robin, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Pacific Wren, and Spotted Towhee — are examples of local sentinel birds that we recommend as a focal birds for new birders because they’re common and easier to observe than many of our more secretive birds.
You may have another bird species in your backyard that you hear and see often, and you are welcome to choose that species to study instead.
Read about the Killdeer as an example of a sentinel bird in this Bird Note story.
It is also fine if you see your focal bird species frequently; however, our local birds are more frequently heard than seen, so seeing them regularly is not a requirement.
We have a lot of plant life in the Pacific Northwest that can hide birds from view, so many local birders rely heavily on bird vocalizations to identify birds. Therefore, it’s important that you hear your bird species frequently because we want you to learn auditory birding skills, which are so relevant for our area.