Tip of the Month, December 2011: This One’s For the Birds

My Mom introduced me to bird watching when I was seven or eight years old. We lived in northern Virginia at the time and one of Mom’s librarian friends got her hooked on watching our feathered friends, and occassionly she would let me come along on her bird walks. I remember going to the Potomac River and seeing kingfishers, herons and other water fowl as well as walking in the deep woods behind our house and coming across colorful Baltimore orioles and red-winged blackbirds near the creek.

While I never pursued this activity like Mom has (she still goes on Audubon bird counts and identifies many birds just by their songs), I do enjoy watching the birds come to my various feeders and plants and am glad that I can recognize most of them.

I fill my bird feeders year-round, but now that winter is approaching it is quite important to make sure you are providing a steady food source for your feathered friends. During this time, many seed-laden plants are dormant and insects become more and more scarce. I use assorted types of seeds to attract different types of birds and our feeders enjoy a nice variety of typical songbirds to our area, such as Carolina wrens, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, blue jays, flickers, nuthatches, bluebirds, goldfinches, juncos, purple finches, ruby-throated hummingbirds, various sparrows, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, etc.

One thing I do not do is feed the squirrels. My hatred of squirrels began in the early 90s when I was working at Perkins Library at Duke University. I often ate my lunch at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the squirrels were so used to humans that they would actually come up to the bench I’d be sitting on and try to steal my lunch. Thieves, bloody thieves! I got wise and started packing grapes with my lunch to give to the squirrels because for some odd reason they would try and peel the grapes before eating them, which took some time. Time for me to eat my lunch in peace. Fooled you, crazy squirrels!

Squirrels love most bird seed and will try to hog all of it if they can. However, they do not like hot seed, so I like to buy Cole’s Hot Meats – pricey but worth it. Squirrels hate, hate, hate this seed!

I also buy the hot pepper suet and the capsian pepper to add to non-hot bird seed, which does a decent job in keeping the squirrels away.

Bird watching is akin to mesmerizing over fireplaces and aquariums, at least for me. It brings a sense of inner peace and, at times, excitement when I get a new bird on one of my feeders. I love when the cardinals start nesting in the spring – the bright red males will come to the feeder, retrieve seeds, and feed them to its mate who is patiently waiting on a branch nearby. Sweet!

Put up a bird feeder if you don’t have one, fill it with good seed and watch the show. It may take a few weeks for the birds to find you, but once they do you have special nature entertainment right in front of your eyes!

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