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Diggin’ In: Counting birds, counts during National Bird Feeding month

February 15, 2016

Bird-watching is an entertaining and educational way for young and old to pass boring winter days. Even preschool kids can participate and practice their counting and color recognition skills.

Counting birds becomes even more important during the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 12-15.

Scientists use your data to analyze bird populations, migration patterns, habitat needs and identify endangered species. Data will be powered by eBird (www.eBird.org), an online checklist program for all of the world’s 10,240 bird species, according to a news release. This year’s count is the first time it’s open to birders worldwide. Birders can view what others see on interactive maps, keep their own records and have their tallies recorded.

It’s easy to participate in the bird count — just count for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you want. Count birds you see at feeders or at local parks, fields and woodlands — anywhere you happen to go. Then tally the numbers of each species you see, and report your findings online at www.BirdCount.org.

Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with Bird Studies Canada, the four-day event helps scientists study migration patterns and overall population numbers.

"Birding is a wonderful hobby for all ages and a wonderful window into natural world," says Shirley Devan, a Williamsburg, Va., resident who documents her many birding activities on Facebook. She’s also a member of the Williamsburg Bird Club.

"I love watching the birds interact around the feeders. For example, Carolina chickadees grab a seed from the feeder and fly back to a protected spot to eat it — then, return for another seed and fly away. On the other hand, American goldfinches take a seat at the buffet table, or tube feeder, and hang out for quite a while as if they are at a coffee shop using the Wi-Fi."

Seeds birds like

February is National Bird-Feeding Month, a time to put out seed and suet that brings birds to your backyard feeders where you can watch them.

"Not all birds fly south for the winter," says Richard Cole of Cole’s Wild Bird Feed — http://coleswildbird.com.

"Those who do are likely looking for their favorite foods — nectar, insects or fruit — that aren’t usually available when the weather turns cold. Birds that eat seed are more likely to stay put, and that means you can entice them to your backyard by serving their preferred varieties."

—Dried mealworms: bluebirds.

—Sunflower meats: bluebirds, warblers, robins and woodpeckers.

—Sunflower: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, blackbirds and jays.

—White millet: ground-feeding birds like towhees, juncos, song sparrows, doves and Indigo bunting.

—Safflower: cardinal, chickadees and titmice.

—Nyger, or thistle: finches.

—Corn: jays.

—Suet: most birds; woodpeckers especially like peanut-filled suet.

Keep feeders clean

Songbirds may not mind eating from dirty feeders but feeder cleanliness helps prevent them from getting a common eye disease, according to research led by scientists at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

Researchers monitored the social and foraging behaviors of wild flocks of house finches, a common backyard songbird, and the spread of a naturally-occurring bird disease called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, according to a news release. The disease is similar to "pink eye" in humans but cannot be contracted by humans. Infected birds have red, swollen eyes that can lead to blindness, and ultimately, death, as a result of not being able to see.

Feeding birds isn’t a bad thing for humans to do, as it helps birds survive the winter. However, the researchers recommend that bird feeders be cleaned and disinfected each time they are refilled to help reduce the likelihood of spreading disease.

Pampered birds

In Williamsburg, Kathi Mestayer goes to great lengths to make sure her backyard birds are pampered during cold weather. She shovels snow and ice off leaf litter in the wooded area, so the birds have easy access to the leaf litter for foraging.

"After we did that, juncos and sparrows and Carolina wrens were all over it," she says.

To make homemade suet for cold weather feeding, Mestayer saves bacon grease in the fridge. Then, she lets it warm up to room temperatures, adds peanut butter at the ratio of one-third bacon grease, two-thirds peanut butter; birdseed, grape nuts, other nuts and hot sauce are added to the mixture.

At night, Mestayer brings the bird bath indoors to sit in the laundry sink where it comes to room temperature instead of freezing over again. The next morning, she puts it outdoors and fills it again.

"It’s a lot easier than trying to chip the ice off it," she says.

 

 


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