One year I participated in the Christmas Bird Count with members of the Spokane Audubon Society. As we prowled our beat, my teammates headed for the few households that had well-maintained bird feeding stations. There we found myriads of birds and lively oases of feathered hustle and bustle in the frozen morning. “Hey,” I thought, “I want birds partying in MY yard, too!”
By scattering scratch for my chickens, I had already invited an invasion of English sparrows—the aggressive invaders that drive off native songbirds. I was off to a ragged start, but I began learning to feed the wild winter birds responsibly through the Spokane Audubon Society website. The “Birds and Birding” section provided excellent, locally appropriate guidelines and links to additional information. Here are some other tips for attracting birds this winter.
Provide a good source of water. Buy a birdbath, or recycle a garbage can lid or frying pan. Place rocks as “islands” for access. Add a dripper to keep water from becoming stagnant. To DIY, punch a tiny hole in the bottom of an old bucket or plastic jug then fill and suspend it to drip intermittently into your birdbath. At least once a month, clean your birdbath (and bird feeder) with soap and water.
Find their favorite food. The birds’ favorite purchased food is black oil sunflower seeds with white millet and cracked corn (scratch) as close contenders. Offering a diversity of food, including peanuts for jays and thistle seed for goldfinch, could reward you with a wider variety of birds. Robins and waxwings will come to eat raisins that have been soaked in water. A peanut butter log and suet will be popular with flickers and chickadees.
Do it well or don’t do it at all. “Poorly maintained feeders (and waterers) can cause death and disease,” the Feederwatch.com website reminds us. This means keep feeders and birdbaths clean and don’t use moldy seed or food. Regularly rake up spilled seeds and hulls, spread out feeders and place at different heights to avoid overcrowding, and avoid bird poop falling on platform feeders from overhead. If you have outside cats, think twice about putting feeders in your yard at all. Also place feeders carefully to avoid birds colliding with windows.
Plant native species of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds us that feeders don’t replace habitat. Throw away the bug spray and leave some plant debris to encourage insects, a primary bird food. //
Let Your Birdfeeder Make You a Citizen Scientist!
Anyone can contribute their observations of the world around them to citizen-sourced databases. Each project has standards and protocols for observing and reporting online. This detailed and specific data just gets better with each individual contribution. It is used by scientists for mapping and analysis of trends and changes in nature occurring regionally, nationally, and globally, to guide conservation efforts and policy making. Here are just a few ways to get involved as a citizen scientist.
- The Christmas Bird Count: For 118 years the Audubon Society has been counting bird numbers and species at Christmas time. Contact Spokane area CBC coordinator Alan McCoy at email@example.com to ask if your birdfeeder is within the Great Circle of a survey. Better yet, sign up to join birders on a CBC expedition Saturday, December 30, 2017.
- The Backyard Bird Count: February 16-19, 2018. Last year over 160,000 participants worldwide sent in observations of bird species and numbers; this was the largest snapshot of bird populations ever recorded! More info: Birdcount.org.
- eBird: use this free app to identify birds, record and organize your personal bird list, and share your data with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Project Feederwatch. From November to early April, count the birds at your feeder and share your data online. Project Feederwatch provides an informative website and an online community of fellow birdwatchers and summary reports of their data. More info: Feederwatch.org. //
Bea Lackaff is a retired cartographer. Currently presiding over her overgrown empire in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, she squeezes in as many camping/hiking/road trips as these duties allow.