I really enjoy birding. I am not the most well educated ornithologist, but I know who’s in the neighborhood, and when somebody new comes around I enjoy finding out who it is, and trying to figure out what brought them around. For part-time bird feeders like me, the season kicks off when the temperatures start dropping.
I maintain feeding stations from the time the fall migration begins until the spring migration is complete. The migrations are the best times to catch unusual visitors as they travel to their seasonal homes. In late winter we like to have a couple of birdhouses in move-in condition for the cavity nesters.
We live in pretty good habitat so I figure the locals can find their own food in the summer. I do feed the hummingbirds on occasion, but I normally restrict my summer feeding schedule to planting good shelter and forage plants, and leave it at that. The little stream that runs past our home provides a year round water source, so I don’t have a birdbath.
Birding: Beat Cabin Fever
One of the most rewarding parts of birding, and feeding birds in Winter, is doubly good. When the weather is really cold or drizzly, I don’t want to go out so I sit by the window with a cup of coffee and watch the birds…far better than t.v. It is interesting to watch some birds wait their turn, others try to dominate, still others form gangs to fend off invaders.
The neighbor’s cat sometimes takes a swipe but normally fails. As often as not, a brazen mockingbird will dive at it’s head until it retreats. Squirrels have not figured out the key to the feeder itself, but claim the windfall from the ground along with chipmunks, mourning doves, sparrows, juncos and the occasional towhee. The red bellied and downy woodpeckers stake their claim on the suet feeder and will eagerly scarf it down in just a few frosty days.
After a while, you kind of know how mild or frigid it is by the activity around the feeders. On a normal or normally cold day you get the regular suspects. When the weather is changing, there is a flurry of hungry visitors gobbling up as much as we’ll offer. On the coldest days you see birds that rarely come around. Last winter, during a record cold spell I had bluebirds feeding at my suet feeder three days in a row. I see bluebirds in the neighborhood all the time, but in nine years had not once seen one on my feeders, until then.
Birds: Keepers Of The Green
Birding really helps out in the garden too, even when I’m not actively feeding. When I see robins and bluebirds gleaning the yard after I mow, I can be sure they are taking care of at least some of my pests (sorry earthworms). The same is true after tilling or hoeing the vegetable garden. Although the crows make a mess of my serviceberry tree when the fruit is ripe, I’ll take that hit because they also devour some problem bugs and overripe fruit that I would not otherwise use. There are owls in the woods behind us that take care of some of the rodents. Even the tiny wrens and nuthatches each do a wonderful job hunting down bugs in the underbrush and even in cracks in the bark of trees!
Being A Good Host
For all of the fantastic benefits birds bring to the landscape: song, color, life and movement, as well as pest control; they deserve to be treated well. Knowing that I have invited them into my yard, I don’t want to be a poor host. With that (and a few other things) in mind, I decided several years ago to stop using bug, disease and weed control applications, replacing them with a double-down on good cultural practice and potentially risking plant lives. I don’t think I have lost any plants due to not spraying since that time, and I know that I haven’t added to toxin levels in any of my feathered guests. The money saved on those chemicals, more than pays for my annual expense of bird food.