Backyard Birding: Get Started!

Backyard Birding: Get Started!

Quality Entertainment

Sharing quiet time with your family couldn’t be more exciting than backyard birding. Just when the weather puts a damper on outdoor plans, whether with drizzly rain, deep cold, or just an otherwise “blah” kind of day, activity at bird feeders tends to pick up. On beautiful days, birds often disperse to find food from their natural sources, but in miserable conditions they are drawn to feeders, making this aspect of backyard birding particularly rewarding: we don’t want to be outside, and we still get to see the beautifully graceful and comical activity of wildlife right outside the kitchen window.

A Good Education

Debbie and I have always had bird feeders wherever we have lived, and got to know the local birds. When our oldest son came along, some of it rubbed off on him. His pre-K teacher told me one day that she was really impressed with his bird identification skills. I asked “what do you mean?” She said “we were doing an activity today, telling what we saw in different pictures, and Jacob didn’t just say ‘birds,’ he said ‘cardinal’ and ‘chickadee’ and ‘titmouse.’ I didn’t even know what a titmouse looked like.” Although I was pleased, I was not surprised. He had seen these birds at home every single day, and we talked about them by name.

Conservation

Learning names and feeding habits of the birds at our feeders was the first clue we had that backyard birding was more than just entertaining for our son. Last winter, after a couple of months of putting him off, I relented and helped our son build and set up a bluebird house. We have bluebirds all over the neighborhood, but they rarely come to the feeders. He figured we could at least make sure they came to our yard on a regular basis. He learned lessons in carpentry, biology and patience. After a couple of months waiting, a pair nested and raised a brood in his birdhouse the first nesting season. We were all thrilled, and we talked with him about the history of bluebird conservation. Now we are preparing for the mid-February Great Backyard Bird Count organized by the National Audubon Society, a nation-wide conservation project that anyone can join to help scientists understand population trends for North American bird species.

Backyard Birding: Get Started!
A simple feeder our 7 year old made from a milk jug.

A Gift For Your Family

This hobby, which I really never thought much about, has been an interesting development for our family. We never took it very seriously in terms of the educational or conservation issues. We just consistently have fed birds and plant things in the yard that we know will attract them, because we enjoy having the birds and wildlife around. Our two year old is thrilled whenever he sees a bird at the feeder. What is happening as our children grow is a whole other unexpected benefit in that it greatly enriches their thinking and it’s a shared experience that binds our family more closely.

Get Started

Feeding birds is easy. Not feeding squirrels and other unexpected critters can prove a bit more challenging at times. My suggestion to begin attracting more birds to your yard is to start with great bird food and a halfway decent feeder. You can spend under $10 on a bird feeder that is perfect to get started. As for the food, I spend around $30 for a 20# bag that lasts a couple of months in fall or spring, and three to six weeks in winter depending on how cold it is. The seed I use has sunflower (both in and out of the shell) and safflower seed, cracked corn and peanuts, and no millet. I have found that, although I spend more on this seed, it lasts much longer than the cheap stuff, and the birds eat it much more efficiently.

For less than $5 you can get a wire suet feeder. Suet comes in lots of different flavors, I use one that is supposed to attract woodpeckers, which it does along with all the other suet eaters. It runs about $2 and lasts from several weeks to a month or more.

For a a birdbath, I have used a large plastic saucer (the kind used to catch water under a large flower pot), placed over an inverted pot or even on a tree stump. A rock in the middle keeps the wind from blowing it away. In the winter a disc of black plastic in the bottom will keep it thawed amazingly well on bright days.

To identify birds, you will want to get a good field guide which will be between $25-$30. There are lots of options, some use photos and others use artist renderings, both have their merits. If you want to try some out before buying, check out your local library. If you prefer an electronic field guide, there are some decent ones that include bird song recordings as well.

Backyard Birding: Get Started!

Now Is The Time

Don’t wait until spring! If you want to start feeding birds or put a birdhouse in your yard, do it now. Birds really appreciate the supplemental food in winter. By beginning feeding now, your local birds will establish patterns that may tip off spring migratory species that they have a new oasis to check out too. As for houses, it’s always best to have them up and ready before nesting season kicks off so that you don’t miss the possible early bird.

Simple Joy

Backyard birding means a lot to lots of people for great reasons. Without leaving home you can interact with and help to protect wildlife, spend quiet quality time with your loved ones and enjoy a lifetime of entertainment. It really is a simple joy of life.

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