Every winter I look forward to watching the drama unfolding in the backyard, as birds and squirrels begin arriving at feeders, searching for and sometimes battling over food and even becoming food for predatory birds.
I’m not alone in this fascination. Recognizing the rise in interest in feeding birds, Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology began a Backyard Bird Count, with simple guidelines to follow. Thousands of people across the country interested in birds have participated in the activity, scheduled this year for Feb. 18-21. For all ages, the bird count can be done from the comfort of a recliner parked in front of a window overlooking a feeder or backyard. Just pick a 15-minute segment of time to count the different species of birds coming to your feeder. You may choose to count just one day or all four.
Guidelines and additional information can be found at www.birdsource.org/gbbc Cornell has even added a photography contest for count participants.
If you would like to participate as a family and learn more about local backyard birds, the KWEC is offering a program Feb. 19, from 10-11 a.m., in conjunction with the Backyard Bird Count. In addition to learning some fun facts about birds that may visit your backyard, the kids can make a feeder and then everybody can participate in the count by observing birds at the feeders and in the marsh area behind the Center.
Northern harriers, a migratory hawk that arrives in great numbers in October, are daily visitors. The brown females and gray males glide above the grasses listening and watching for prey. A Cooper’s hawk usually makes three sweeps of the area, hunting small birds.
Some of the smallest visitors to winter feeders are my favorites. Often, both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches take sunflower seeds and suet in our backyard. The red-breasted nuthatch is a winter visitor, moving north in spring to breed and nest.
Bundles of energy, they move up, down and sideways around the tree. Unlike woodpeckers, nuthatches have the typical three toes forward and one toe back foot arrangement. They use the long back toe to grip bark, zigzagging back and forth down tree trunks and branches. Feisty little birds, they may chase much larger birds away from the food source.
Another favorite, the tiny black-capped chickadee, may become quite fearless and fly only a short distance away while you fill the feeder, even to the point of taking a seed from the hand. This willingness to face danger may be associated with its high calorie demand. To survive winter nights, they must eat almost continually during the day. Chickadees also hide their food, remembering thousands of hiding places.
If you are interested in taking up backyard bird feeding and watching, a great reference is the National Bird Feeding Society, www.birdfeeding.org. It seems there is an organized group for every topic. The site contains good information on the best feed and feeders. Printed below is a simple bird food recipe that doesn’t require the mess of suet.
Enjoy the show!
No Suet Suet*
2 cups water
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup oatmeal
½ cup raisins
4 cups crunchy peanut butter
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup millet
Boil water with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Add oatmeal and raisins. Cook one minute and stir in remaining ingredients. Press into containers or mold directly onto tree branches.
*From "Bird Food Recipes" by Rhonda Massingham Hart