This January has brought especially strange weather patterns even for the Midwest. Last week, temperatures were as high as 78 degrees and within 24 hours had dropped to 16 degrees. No wonder plants, trees, and wildlife may have a hard time surviving some winters.
One of my all-time favorite things to do to bypass the winter doldrums is to watch the beautiful songbirds gathered outside on my feeders. I have a wide-range of species that gather at the buffet I put out for them, from downy, red-bellied, and the more rare, red-headed and hairy woodpeckers, to cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, wrens, finches, and many more.
The numbers that gather and their colorful feathers are a photographer's dream. Who knew that something as simple as spreading bird seed could lower your blood pressure and heart rate, calm your spirit, and soothe your soul!
February is actually National Bird Feeding Month as enacted into Congress in 1994 by John Porter (R-IL). In his resolution, he recognized that February is the most difficult month for wild birds. At this point in the season, most wild seeds have been depleted making survival very challenging. During dry years, like we experienced this year, it can be tough for our feathered friends to find water. Mr. Porter's resolutions states, "…individuals are encouraged to provide food, water, and shelter to help wild birds survive".
Congressman Porter "got it." He understood the benefits of backyard birdfeeding. His resolution continues, "Young children are naturally drawn to the activities involved in feeding wild birds, which can serve as excellent educational tools. Children can identify different species of birds with a field guide and can learn about the birds' feeding and living habits. These observations can then provide excellent research opportunities for school projects and reports."
I can see birdfeeding being incorporated into elementary science and social studies curricula tying the two together and comparing and contrasting behaviors of birds with people.
Mr. Porter's resolution concludes, "Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an easy hobby to start and need not overtax the family budget. It can be as simple as mounting a single feeder outside a window and filling it with bird seed mix. For many people, the hobby progresses from there. They discover the relationship between the type and location of feeders, and the seeds offered in them, and the number and varieties of birds attracted. Parents can challenge an inquisitive child's mind as they explore together these factors in trying to encourage visits by their favorite birds."
Pretty persuasive stuff, no wonder Congress agreed and passed the resolution.
The frigid weather and snow make it an even more important time to feed the birds. Seeds that may have been available on the ground are covered and the cold temperatures require more energy to stay warm. A heated water source will draw wild birds and provide a necessary basic need for them. At the very least, providing fresh water at the same time each day will habitualize the birds to your routine. They will come at that time of day to get the water. Two plastic take-out trays work well for this; while one is outside for the day providing water, the other is inside thawing from the day before (just keep rotating them).
Page 2 of 2 - Next week, I will give more information about specific seeds, feeders, and birds related to wild birdfeeding.
Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.