The hubbub of the holidays can be stressful, but nothing can be more frantic than realizing you have an upcoming white-elephant or holiday gift exchange and NO GIFT! Eek! Or maybe you’re simply looking for a creative gift idea for a fellow birder. Well, here’s an easy, inexpensive, DIY holiday gift anyone can make in just minutes. And it’s a gift idea that can be easily altered to accommodate any gift-giving holiday; just change up the ribbon and decorative topper. Take a look!
It was still dark out when I heard the ruckus. The Steller’s jays were all in a frenzy, squawking violently at something. But I could hardly adjust my eyes to see what was causing all the commotion.
I got some coffee and continued readying for work, and that’s when I heard the ravens. I knew immediately that this was about something bigger than a mere plea for more food.
I went to the window again and could see the outline of two large ravens frantically trying to flush something out of the tree. They were NOT happy with whatever had arrived in their backyard!
I continued watching as the sun rose up over the mountain peak and revealed what was in the tree, and I gasped with delight. He was beautiful. Majestic. And a little intimidating.
I went outside with my camera and the ravens flew off, but our new visitor stood its ground. He didn’t budge.
I went back inside and woke up my husband. “If you want to come see it, get up now,” I whispered.
He didn’t even need to ask. He knew that if I woke him up in the middle of a sound sleep then it must be worth it.
We stood side by side and in awe of the beauty before us.
I drove to work giddy from the morning’s excitement and the opportunity to add a Great Horned Owl to my life list. And I was grateful to get the one picture I did get because the owl was gone by the time I got back home after work. And the thought occurred to me that I may now need to relocate my trail cam to somewhere up high. That is if I can successfully imitate a bear climbing up and down a tree. Hmmmm… I better rethink that.
I stumbled into the kitchen and this feeling of horror crept over me! What had I done?! Had I really let in the enemy?!
Coffee seemed of little importance as I stared at the shed snakeskin I had cut and laid out on parchment paper the night before… and I cringed. I nearly squealed with delight upon finding the shed snakeskin the day before. My husband had gently lifted the brittle shell to carry it into the house, and from the looks of it, the snake had shed its skin several days prior, maybe even weeks. It was so very fragile and I immediately went to work researching shed snakeskins. That’s when I discovered how to make jewelry pendants from the skins, an idea that caught my fancy, and I went to work hydrating the skin so I could lay it out flat to dry overnight.
But things always seem different after a good night’s sleep and something about the snakeskin seemed eerie in the morning light. I became immediately conflicted about its presence in our home, let alone the idea of wearing it! Several thoughts stampeded my brain.
As a Christian, I was instantly reminded of the verse in Genesis where God cursed the serpent more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field, doomed to go on his belly and eat dust all the days of his life. Floods of other scripture reminded me that the snake is the symbol of evil, the serpent a deceptive trickster particularly adept at promoting all God has forbidden as “good”.
I had to pause and take a breath before sorting through the other thoughts flooding my mind:
While Christians may believe the serpent to be a symbol of evil, snakes serve as different symbols in other cultures:
- In early Egyptian society the snake was the symbol of royalty and deity.
- As a Spiritual Animal, the snake represents healing, transformation and life changes, often providing guidance about life changes and transitions – physical, emotional, and spiritual.
- In Medicine, the snake is a common symbol on pharmaceutical packaging and hospitals, with the two serpents wrapped around the staff of Asclepius, Greek mythological son of Apollo and god of medicine and healing.
- Ancient symbolism (the ouroboros) depicts the serpent or snake eating its own tail, representing the infinite cycle of nature’s endless creation and destruction, life and death.
- In other eras and other cultures, the snake symbolized eternal love, healing, fertility, wisdom, and even immortality.
But the symbolism that resonated with me the most was the role of the snake in the circle of life. In fact, most naturalists will suggest you do nothing to remove snakes from your yard or garden because they play a critical role in the natural ecosystem. Not only do snakes help control the rodent population… snakes also serve as a food source for several bird species, including owls, hawks, falcons, and herons. And you know how much I LOVE birds!
I came “full circle” in my thinking when I remembered Psalm 148 which serves as praise to the Lord from Creation itself, praise from all things – beasts and creeping things (including snakes) – and I could suddenly imagine snakes everywhere praising God for having created them too (image snakes at a Christian rock revival).
I started to breathe easier after my mental wrestling match and decided to celebrate our find. Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth, and further growth is good for our wildlife habitat. Further growth is also all part of God’s design and I decided that finding this particular shed was a gift, one I could wear as homage to the circle of life and all things created by God.
So I ask… is it a terribly weird idea and you’d never let any part of any snake in your house, no way, no how? Or, do you totally love it and want a pendant of your own? Thoughts?
This month marks the one year anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat and Bird Sanctuary, and as I reminisce over the last twelve months, I’m reminded of how blessed we have been. Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker. We have several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders, AND we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month.
Getting to experience the birds and wildlife every day is a special treat but the real gift lies in the wisdom I’ve acquired in such a short time. Nature has its music for those who will listen and I’ve done my share of listening. Here’s what I’ve learned in the process:
- The date and time stamp on the trail cam matters in keeping good records.
- Birds will not set a limit on how much food I should provide them, so I have to.
- Indoor window clings are critical in avoiding aviary window strikes.
- When time or resources are limited, water is more important than food.
- Having a contact at the local US Fish and Wildlife Service is really helpful.
- Photographs are required to support a claim of wildlife or bird species.
- There will be injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife and knowing in advance what to do when I find them will reduce stress – for me and for the wildlife.
- Volunteering at a local wildlife rescue organization is an ideal hands-on learning experience.
- The traffic patterns in my habitat may not match the information in various field guides, and that’s okay.
- Knowing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 will help keep me out of jail.
I should probably write a book about everything I’ve learned this past year, but for now this is my short list. And if you’re interested in hearing the details around each of these ten learnings, check back here over the next several weeks. My goal is to elaborate on each and every one of these in greater detail. In the meantime… happy birding!
One year ago this month, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, recognized me and my husband for having successfully certified our Wildlife Habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program. This month, we are celebrating the habitat’s one year anniversary! Woo hoo!
Truth is, we certified our mountainous habitat in response to the “Dog Head” fire that consumed nearly 18,000 acres in June of last year. We had experienced a sudden influx of both birds and wildlife immediately after the fire and we wanted to do our part to create a safe haven for them. In fact, in just this past year alone, we’ve had 32 different bird species come through our habitat, many of which have nested and are now raising young.
Common visitors to our bird sanctuary include chickadees, Steller’s jays, juncos, pine siskin, and house finches, while special appearances were made by a black-throated gray warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker. We provide for the wild birds with several birdbaths and over a dozen bird feeders. And we go through about 80 pounds of bird seed a month! But providing water is the most critical aspect of what we do (as you’ve heard me say before) because a bird will die from dehydration before it will die from starvation, especially during critical winter months or droughts when water is scarce.
Even wild mammals need water, as evidenced by several photographs I took this summer of a mule deer drinking water from our birdbath out back. (That was terribly exciting to watch!) Other mammals frequenting our wildlife habitat include Abert’s and rock squirrels, brush and cottontail bunnies, coyotes, and a pair of wolves.
In the midst of the worldly drama around us, we’re grateful to have nature as a form of distraction. The beauty and grace of our wildlife and birds delight us daily, reminding us of the splendor of God’s creation. Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us, for your encouragement along the way, and for your support of our efforts.
So, what is a manifesto and why do you want to create one of your own? A manifesto is a public declaration of policy and aims. It’s a mission statement, a proclamation, or an announcement of one’s values and commitments.
I decided to create a manifesto of my intentions with regard to our wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary. I want to keep myself accountable and reminded of my commitment – to our wildlife and birds. I want to be a good steward of our habitat and make sure our wild guests are comfortable, safe, and well fed. I figured a manifesto would be the perfect tool for that reminder, keeping me focused on what I value and serving as my north star when things get tough.
Creating my manifesto was an interesting exercise. I researched different approaches and finally I just started writing down those things that were important to me in terms of the commitment I was willing to make. I had to keep it simple, though, otherwise the task seemed daunting. But it wasn’t too terrible. In fact, it was an insightful exercise. So, here’s my backyard birding manifesto. How would yours read?
This month is my birthday month and I have been truly blessed. So when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday this year, I said, “I want to give back to my community.” So, that’s what we’re doing. We’re giving back to our community and in a number of ways. Here’s one…
Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico is 100% supported by volunteers and donations and they care for over 2,000 mammals and birds each year. I recently had the pleasure of using company paid time off to volunteer with this organization and I have since become a huge advocate of the great work they are doing for our local wildlife and birds. In fact, watch this short video of my volunteer opportunity at their clinic and tell me you’re not inspired to support their efforts!
Why are we promoting wildlife rescue? Because we’re sensitive to the balance of nature. Show you are too by supporting our cause!
Take advantage of this LIMITED TIME OFFER! For every Ladies Tee purchased this month, 10% will be donated to Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico!
Visit our store and show your passion for birds and wildlife. Our ladies tees are:
- Printed in the USA
- 100% Cotton
- High quality design
- Designed by Backyard Birding Paradise (yep, that’s me!)
Every time you purchase from us this month, you give something back.
We thank you for your contribution! And the wildlife does too!
I had a chance to coordinate a wildlife meet n’ greet and fundraising event for a local wildlife rescue organization and it was a great success! Take a look at that video collage of pictures from the event itself. And if you feel so inspired, I want to encourage you to coordinate a fundraising event to support a wildlife rescue organization where you live! Are you game?
I love DIY projects and I recently tried my hand at up-cycling some 2 liter plastic bottles. Turns out it’s easier than I thought and decided to make these cute bird feeders. Functional and pretty!
First, I ordered these plastic bottle bird feeder kits on Amazon, (see picture upper left), but you can probably get them at other online retailers, too.
Then, I collected empty 2 liter plastic bottles. (We go through lots of bottled sparkling water, so collecting several was easy-peasy.)
Once I had those items in hand, I dug into my crafting stash:
- I used painter’s tape to outline my decorative space around each plastic bottle.
- I painted each space with chalk paint using a roller brush; one coat did the trick and then I let the bottle dry overnight.
- I covered the painted space with a napkin design and decoupage, separating the napkin to 1 ply and using saran wrap to remove any bubbles. Note: Remember to turn the bottle upside down before adhering the napkin design.
- I let that dry, then covered the napkin design with a 2nd coat of decoupage, which I let dry again over night
- I then coated the napkin design with varnish and let that dry overnight.
- I inserted the plastic bottle hangers by punching small holes into the sides of the bottles. I used sharp craft scissors for this step.
- Then I filled the bottle with a mixed blend of wild bird seed.
- I screwed on the plastic feeding perch and Voila!
The birds love my new feeder, and I quickly discovered that our squirrels do, too. In fact, in our backyard, we’re inundated with a bunch of hungry baby squirrels. They were able to jump onto the bird feeder and the plastic hanger wasn’t strong enough to hold their weight; it snapped and down went my feeder. But the plastic bottle and feeding perch were durable enough for the fall. So, I replaced the plastic hanger with a wire pant hanger and that did the trick!
Anyway, I loved this idea so much that I went back online and ordered 2 more sets of the plastic bottle bird feeder kits from Amazon. Then I went crazy with my napkin collection, some of which I bought from the Dollar Store. Nice!
Super easy to make, low cost, and really pretty. Hmmm… these might just make the perfect Christmas presents for my birding friends and family-members and I have plenty of time to get started in collecting bottles and supplies. Off I go…
Educating myself about the birds in my backyard is a priority. I want to make sure I know who’s coming to dinner and when! As a result, I frequently consult numerous field guides and online sights. And I’ve found that range maps are a great tool for helping identify specific bird species. Some of the resources I consult are exceptional. However, I’ve found myself disappointed with some of the generalizations made for my area. For example, local resources indicate that the Cassin’s Kingbird will squawk loudly back and forth in my backyard in July, but I’ve yet to see a Cassin’s Kingbird. Likewise, the European Starling has been noted as a common bird in my area and so far they’ve been as scarce as a hen’s teeth. (That might actually be a good thing.)
Fact is, no one can tell me what bird species are expected to be in my backyard better than the birds in my backyard. So, I decided to listen to the birds. I created an Excel spreadsheet this year to notate which birds visit my backyard and during which months in the year. An Excel spreadsheet is practical for me because I’m on the computer almost every day, but I could easily do this in a lined journal or on graph paper. A few times every day, I take a few minutes to observe what bird species are in my backyard and I make an entry of those species in my spreadsheet.
I’m nearly half way through the year now and I’m finding that my spreadsheet (see below) is more accurate that many of the other well researched range maps available to me. It’s easy enough to update and its accuracy allows me to better anticipate the food sources I’ll need at different times of the year for the different bird species. That’s good news all around.
My advice: don’t believe everything you read. Listen to the birds instead, and they’ll think your backyard is paradise, too!