February 10th, 2015 § § permalink
Backyard bird feeding is most helpful at times when birds need peace of mind, such as during temperature extremes, and in late winter when natural seed sources are depleted. So, February is the perfect month to supply these backyard buddies with a healthy high-calorie winter treat—a Birdseed Valentine.
The recipe below can be used to make 3 or 4 birdseed valentine treats, although it could easily be doubled or tripled to make a dozen. Wrapped up with a ribbon and card, these make great Valentine’s Day gifts for friends, neighbors, and teachers—or any folks who will thoughtfully hang them in backyards for feathered friends.
2 cups cup birdseed mix
4 Tbs unflavored fruit pectin (find near Jell-O)
½ cup water
Natural twine, raffia or ribbon
Large cookie cutter or mold (heart-shaped is nice)
Choose a birdseed mix with a large amount of black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, white proso millet, thistle, and peanut hearts. Pour water into a saucepan and add pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add birdseed to the pectin solution and stir it until it’s combined. The seeds should be completely coated.
Place waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie cutter on the waxed paper. With a spoon, press the birdseed mixture into the cookie cutter. Fill half way. Cut a 6-inch length of twine and lay it onto the birdseed, forming a loop at the top, Then, completely fill the cookie cutter with birdseed, pressing again with a spoon to ensure that the birdseed mixture fills the cookie cutter and is the desired shape. Place the birdseed-filled cookie cutter in a safe indoor spot to dry for several days. Turn over several times during the drying process. Carefully pop the birdseed treat out of the cookie cutter.
Now you’re ready to give your birdseed valentine treat to feathered friends. Hang your valentine in a sunny spot that is safe from predators, including neighborhood cats—a high branch set away from a window and near an evergreen tree is best. That way your friends can run for cover if chased.
It may take quite a while to entice your backyard buddies to eat. Be patient. Show your love for them in other ways, too. Go organic and avoid chemicals in your yard—use compost instead. Reduce the size of your lawn—alternatively, plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead garden flowers—the seeds within them provide essential food for so many backyard critters. Provide nooks with nesting material—dry grass, pet fur, bark strips, pine needles—they are useful throughout the year.
For more valentine-y crafts, click HERE.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
January 18th, 2012 § § permalink
When my workday has ended, and I have carefully put to bed my small spicy accomplices, I look forward to at least a light snack and a footrest in recognition of my achievement. It would be a shame if this did not happen. I am sorry to say, this is the case with many hardworking beings—nimble industrious laborers who endlessly whirl about finding food, making babies and cultivating crops only to return to, well, an empty snack bowl and an unfurnished apartment.
Small beings have the same basic needs as you and I—food, water, a place to live, and a healthy environment. Amphibians, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects—many of these busy little creatures, neither destructive nor aggressive, are an important part of our ecosystem. However, due to fast-paced environmental change and habitat reduction, it has become increasingly more challenging for them.
It is easy to encourage these critters and to be good neighbors. Generally, larger areas with diverse vegetation have greater species diversity, but a well-laid-out modest backyard with a variety of food, cover and water can entice a wide assortment of wildlife. The relative location of food, water and cover is what creates usable wildlife habitat. Below are some simple steps to take.
- Do nothing. Allow half of your garden to remain unmanicured. Leave some wild, untamed areas in your backyard. Allow the weeds to grow up and the insects to move in.
- Go organic, or minimize pesticide use. Use compost, not chemicals.
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Instead, plant a wide variety of flowering native plants to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, ground beetles, rove beetles, lacewings and praying mantises. Choose long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers and plants that bloom at different times of the season.
- Feed them and they will come. Plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead flowers. The seeds within them provide essential food for many animals. Leave fallen trees or leaves in place whenever possible to allow birds to hunt for insects. Keep birdfeeders stocked with thistle, safflower and black oil sunflower seed. If you start feeding, don’t stop during the winter months.
- Landscape with features that appeal to you. A bed of vibrant flowers, a shady spot under a tree, a privacy hedge, colorful fall berries, and evergreen winter shrubs are pleasing to everybody, including backyard critters.
- Add a birdbath. Birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. The best birdbath mimics nature—gently sloping, shallow, and shady at ground level. Change the water once a week.
- Provide nooks in the backyard with a variety of nesting material. Hang concentrated stashes in tree crevices, berry baskets, or mesh bags. Fallen leaves, unraked twigs, dry grass, straw, pet fur, sheep wool, feathers, bark strips, pine needles, small sticks and twigs, yarn, string, and thin strips of cloth all make excellent nest materials.
- If you have a birdhouse, add a roost box. Birds only nest during spring and summer. Overwintering birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers require large nesting cavities during winter months.
Be patient. Depending on your property size, it may take several years to see all the desired results. Make a plan now, and, come spring, put out a vacancy sign. Give vegetation time to become established, and the tenants will move in.
Soon, you will receive tiny handwritten messages regarding extra storage space, laundry and parking facilities; high-pitched calls about hooking up teeny home theater components and keeping microscopic exotic pets; and little notes about room service and spa treatments.
June 15th, 2011 § § permalink
Twenty thousand years ago, before the babies arrived, before the Era of Massive Laundry, I spent some time living in the woods. It was during this time that I could smell the dusty sweet scent of an approaching storm, could lean on a tree and determine its type by the bark, could work out which direction the fox was heading from its tracks, and could decipher just about every forest snap, cackle, and peek—separately noting, unriddling and interpreting each sound in my mind. Each revealed something of importance— bird-twittering love, hawk overhead, nestlings being fed—and each evoked a vivid image of feathers or fur and a sense of belonging to it all.
I did this unknowingly. Would just sit there and listen.
I am rusty now. And everything takes more work.
This spring at our house we’ve been making homemade field guides for these kinds of things. And we’ve been trying to get a good look and listen. We hold hands and hold our binoculars and hold our sharpened pencils and little guides, and we just sit there and listen.
The past two weeks were spent attempting to find out who moved in next door—a hardy fly-catching little guy, with a creamy belly and olive-colored wings. And just this morning we got a good look at him while heading out to school. A phoebe.
There are over 10,000 species of birds in the world. About 925 have been sighted in North America. In New York’s Hudson Valley, where we live, there are just over 100 commonly breeding species. With practice, these birds can, of course, be identified by sight. But a good birder can identify a species just by hearing their call or song. There is something to be said about “seeing” a bird with closed eyes. Some species like our cedar waxwing have just one single simple call. Others, like our brown thrasher, can sing over 2,000 songs. No kidding.
Learning bird songs takes patience, perseverance, persistence and a great deal of practice. Ideally, while in training (which could literally, if you are like me, take a lifetime), you would befriend (or preferably marry) a spirited warmhearted nature-lover, who, energized by your incessant pestering, repeats excitedly, “That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yup, that’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yes, sir-eee, Bob! That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; You got it! That’s a Dark-eyed Junco.” And just when it’s fairly clear you’ve perfected it all—well, just that one single passerine—the same patient friend will suddenly announce “That chipping sound is an alarm call of the Dark-eyed Junco, but the call before that was it’s contact trill note” and so on and so on as the tireless bird goes through its repertoire of 200 zillion sounds. That’s an actual number. It is potentially overwhelming.
My birding advice:
- Listen to one instrument, not the entire orchestra. Pick out the piccolo, then the oboe, the cello, the bass, etc. Find individual notes from each instrument.
- Learn one or two common local birds first. Use these calls and songs as the standard for new ones that you hear.
- Imitate what you hear. If you can, count the notes and sketch the bird and the sound.
- Use gimmicks. If a bird sounds like a perky R2D2, then take note of it. You can use your own gimmicks, putting words to a bird’s song, or you can use the widely accepted ones—called mnemonics.
- Use field guides and online resources like Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Song Mnemonics, Nature Songs and What Bird
- Write everything down and keep it close.
Why? Birding provides a fantastic opportunity for us to connect to the natural world. It allows a deeper understanding of habitat requirements and intra- and inter-species relationships, provides an even playing field—with both parents and kids starting at the same level, actively listening and working together for a common purpose, and requires no fancy terminology, musical training or conceptual framework. By putting a teeny, feathered face on the world outside us, birding helps foster a sense of unity with nature and prompts interest and involvement in local green issues. It can help teach an environmental ethic and can demystify basic ecology concepts.
More importantly, it can stimulate curiosity and passion. Like you’ve never seen before.
Mnemonics we often use:
|Bubble, bubble, glee-gleek
Cheer-a-lee….fancy Robin-y song
Cheer, cheer……woop, woop, woop
Robin with sore throat, and Chick burr
Chipping trill (mechanical)
Chirping trill (softer than Chippy)
Chirr, chirr, chirr
Drink your teeeeeeea!
Drop it, drop it! Cover it up! (repeat)
Here, here, come right here, dear
Here I am. Where are you? (repeat)
Meeee-ew…. and mocking phrases
Oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada
Cheeva, cheeva, cheeva, cheeva
Queer, queer, queer
Teacher, Teacher, Teacher
Wich-ity, witch-ity, witch-ity
Whinny (evenly-pitched rattle)
Wik, wik, wik, wik, wik, wik
Wolf whistle, squeaky squeal, clucks
Who are you, you, you (sadly)
Yenk, yenk yenk (with a cold)
Zeee-zeee (high-pitched crickets)
White Throated Sparrow
Eastern Wood Peewee
White Breasted Nuthatch
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated blue warbler
Just walk outside and listen.