Column – Enjoy and protect the birds in your backyard

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Oh, baby it is cold outside, and windy… the decorations are down, the parties over…the bleakness of mid-winter is upon us.  So, enjoy the color that birds bring to your yard.  All you have to do is look out the window and keep a few feeders clean and full; before you know it you will be hooked on bird watching.  If you do a few simple things, you will make some birds happy, healthy, and safe, and elevate your own happiness and health.  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that there are roughly 45 million bird enthusiasts nationwide.  That works out to be about one third of the population falling into the category we lovingly call “Birds Nerds”.

The birdies need all the help they can get from their human friends.  Goodness knows humans have done our share of damage to our feathered friends.Their numbers are decreasing at a mind numbing rate.  Cornell University estimates roughly 3 billion (yes, billion!) have disappeared since 1970 due to habitat loss, cat attacks,  glass collisions and insect loss due to harmful pesticides.  We urge you to visit their website:

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https://www.birds.cornell.edu to learn how you can mitigate this terrible loss.

We’re lazy bird watchers compared to real birders who get up before the sun to go out to watch birds in the wild.  Most of the time the birds are gone before we can adjust the binoculars and get them in our sights. Of the numerous birds we do see, most of them come to us. The good news is that your backyard is their natural habitat, too.   With a bird identification book and not too much effort, you will be seeing all kinds of birds from the cozy comfort of your kitchen window or any window that suits you.  

During these cold temperatures birds love to visit backyard feeders.  Feeders aren’t the only attraction.  Water is attractive to birds, too.  Especially in the winter it is important to put out fresh water and watch that it is replenished if it freezes.  

If you want to see specific kinds of birds, learn what foods they like.  In general, we have the best luck with black oil sunflower seeds; they seem to be popular with many local birds.  There are lots of mixes out there of varying price points;  beware of the ones that have a high percentage of millet.  The millet always seems to be the last to go… our squirrels even turn their noses up at it. Suet cakes are well loved in winter for their high fat content.  Peanuts are a big hit, especially with the blue jays and red bellied woodpeckers.  Even the little birds like Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chick-a-dee, and Cardinals love the tidbits that are left after the big guys are done.  Bluebirds love freeze dried mealworms.  Mealworms are expensive, but if you love bluebirds it is worth it.  Keep your feeders clean and full and everyone will be happy; especially you.

The National Audubon Society is holding the 27th annual Great Backyard Bird Count February 16-19, 2024.  Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information.  Anyone can join the fun, it’s free, and you can report the birds you see in your backyard. Everyday citizens reporting the birds they see are the best resource that scientists have in knowing how birds are doing around the world.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.