Category Archives: Bird Feeding and Watching

Listen to the Birds and Make Your Own Backyard Birding Range Map

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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!

 

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These houses are for the birds! Really!

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In my spare time (LOL) I support my husband and his spice business at the Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque. As I was helping out just this last Sunday, I was delighted by the booth of creative New Mexican bird houses!

Made mostly from recycled products of weathered wood, rusty metal roofing and other found items, artist Thomas Hogan creates beautifully ornate and intricate bird houses, uniquely designed and handcrafted with the colors and flair of old New Mexico. And, it’s a thriving business for him; in the 10 years he’s been doing this, Hogan has made upwards of 6,000 birdhouses. Oh my! Just think of all the happy bird families.

And just take a look at how gorgeous these bird houses are. I took these pictures in his booth at the market, secretly coveting every single one.

You can find his artistic bird houses around New Mexico, but if you aren’t in the area and just have to have one of these to adorn your backyard, you can contact him here.

Add a splash of color and a bit of rustic old New Mexico to your backyard this spring and summer with one of these uniquely designed bird houses.  And if you’re in New Mexico, look for Hogan at various festivals, famers markets, and art shows.  And, keep an eye out for his converted school bus along the side of the road, where he’s also known to frequently shows his work.

 

 

15 Things I Learned Volunteering at the Wildlife Rescue Clinic

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I volunteered more than 25 hours at Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico last month, including 10 hours of classroom training, 15 hours of on the job training in the clinic, and a few more hours studying their training manual and taking the open book exam. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned in those several hours, things I wouldn’t have likely learned elsewhere. Here’s my list of top 15 things I DID NOT KNOW before my volunteer adventure, and not in any particular order.  Did YOU know?

  1. Of the yearly 2000 intakes, most are injured, sick, or orphaned birds (as opposed to mammals).
  2. Baby ducklings get lonely easily and need a mirror in their tub so their reflection will keep them company; they also need a stuffed animal to snuggle up to for warmth.
  3. Baby birds don’t do well when fed applesauce or oatmeal; they can’t process the food.
  4. Most birds don’t do well when fed dog food or cheerios; they can’t process the food.
  5. Females rule the raptor world, whereas males are larger than females in other bird species.
  6. White doves used for release during ceremonies (i.e. weddings or funerals) are actually white homing pigeons, but they don’t all make it back home; some suffer from car and window strikes or hungry hawks.
  7. Domesticated birds, including white homing pigeons, cannot fend for themselves in the wild.
  8. Birds need a dark quiet place to rest and relax for several hours before being looked at for treatment; this reduces their anxiety.
  9. Birds being cared for in the clinic need a towel placed in front of their cage so they don’t see what’s going on in the clinic; this also reduces their anxiety.
  10. Baby ducklings need to be warm during the first few weeks after they hatch and can be kept in a box under a brooding lamp.
  11. According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA), it is illegal to collect bird feathers or nests of protected species without a permit.
  12. It’s easier to catch and weigh a bird (not including Raptors) by covering their head with a light weight towel or wash cloth; they are more calm when they can’t see what’s going on around them.
  13. 33% of injured birds are cat-caught, meaning they are injured because they were caught by a house cat in the area.
  14. Birds abandoning their babies after being handled by humans is a myth; birds don’t abandon their babies if handled by humans (i.e. placed back up in the nest they fell out of).
  15. Caretakers must go to great lengths to avoid imprinting young birds because birds that have imprinted on humans are unsuitable for release back into the wild.

Haven’t had the chance to volunteer for a wildlife rescue facility?  Take a look at my personal experience  and see if this doesn’t have you seeking out an opportunity for yourself!

 

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My Wildlife Rescue Volunteer Experience

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Following up to my earlier post, Why I Decided to Volunteer at a Wildlife Rescue Clinic, I wanted to share my adventure and I’m sure there will be a number of follow up posts on this topic, but only because I LEARNED SO VERY MUCH!  Wow!  Take a look at the video below and if this doesn’t convince you to seek out a similar opportunity for yourself… I don’t know what will.  I simply can’t find the words to express just how grand the experience has been.

P.S. Don’t forget to turn up the volume on your computer.

 

For more information about Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico, or to make a donation to support this ALL VOLUNTEER organization, visit them at: https://wildliferescuenm.org/

 

Essays and Poetry

 

Meet Bird Whisperer and Communications Expert, Kristen Clark

Do you bring your whole self to work? What passion and personal experience do you bring to work and how does that fuel your ability to create and innovate on the job? If you were asked to write an essay in response to these questions and reflect deeply about who you are and how that contributes to what you do at work, what would you write?

I took the opportunity to write and submit the essay below for my company. This is my response to the questions above.   My essay reads:

“My adventure as a backyard birder stems from taking my first photography class as a little girl in summer school. It was then I learned how to develop my own black and white pictures and I took to the craft like a duck takes to water, shooting family and sporting events at every opportunity. Many birthdays later, I received my first “real” camera from my father, and that’s when my passion for photographing nature really took flight.

Over the last several years I’ve enjoyed using a Nikon D3000 Digital SLR and 300mm zoom lens to photograph and study my backyard birds. In fact, last year my husband and I certified our property as a wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary so I could do more of that. I maintain over 20 different bird feeders and we purchase more than 80lbs of bird seed each month. I take hundreds of bird pictures each week and adding a new species to my life list gives me goose bumps. Yes, I talk to the birds.

One thing I love about watching birds is watching bird communication. Birds communicate using a variety of sounds, including singing, calls, squawks, gurgles, trills, rattles, clicks, whistles, and other combinations of vibration. Some make non-vocal sounds by beating the air with their wings and producing a loud drumming noise. Others communicate with visual displays, combining dramatic behaviors with the ruffling of feathers. And, whether scaring off predators, warning about danger, defending one’s territory, or attracting a mate, nothing birds communicate is without purpose.

People also communicate using a variety of sounds and visual displays or behaviors, and one thing I’ve learned from my backyard birds is the need to communicate with purpose. Context, accurate information, choice points, and feedback needn’t be as scarce as hen’s teeth and I can avoid ruffling feathers by choosing my words and tone carefully. This rings especially true in my role as an executive communication lead, where messaging, intention, and design can have either a positive or negative impact on my colleagues and the business.

I’m grateful to have served my company over the last 20 years in various roles, and I enjoy most my role today as a communication expert for my organization. I’m also grateful for my backyard birds and how they’ve inspired me toward new levels of excellence in how I communicate, either face-to-face, in writing, in presentations, or in meetings. Today I strive to communicate in a way that enables my flock toward greater success because when the flock wins, I win. And winning makes me, well, happy as a lark.”

How would your essay read?

 

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Avian Safety with Electrical Transformers

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The knock on the door caught me off guard, but I was delighted by the unexpected visit. Our electrical company (PNM) had sent pole climbers out to replace our transformer with a newer and avian-safe model.

Avian-safe?

The team lead explained that utility poles are a place birds naturally find to roost, nest, or seek protection from tumultuous weather.  While birds can sit on power lines and be safe, if they touch energized conductors and/or grounded equipment (like a transformer bank) they can be electrocuted. This seems to happen frequently when large birds stretch out their wings.

I shuddered at the thought and was grateful that the crew showed up to replace our transformer (unsafe version on the left, safe version on the right below).  We have large birds!  Large crows, ravens, and flickers. The team lead went on to explain that PNM was considered one of the leading utilities in the country for its efforts in avian protection. That caught my attention, so I went online to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found the information I was looking for and was thrilled to learn that PNM’s Avian Protection Program includes:

  1. Identifying high risk electric structures for bird deaths and proactively bird guarding these facilities through best practices ranging from covering exposed wires and equipment bushings to covering conductors where spacing is inadequate;
  2. Making bird guarding a part of routine electric facility maintenance;
  3. Designing and constructing all new lines and other facilities with avian protection in mind;
  4. Using a Geographical Information System reporting system to track bird mortalities on the PNM electric system and automatically generating bird guarding work orders;
  5. Implementing “Hot Wings” that focuses on the use of avian safe structures in the most sensitive avian areas such as along the Rio Grande and all rural areas;
  6. Implementing mandatory avian protection training every two years for PNM transmission and distribution employees.

I had not thought before about how electrical poles and transformers impact our backyard birds, but I was thrilled to learn that our electrical company is avian conscious. Is yours? One way to find out is to make a simple call to the customer service number for your utility company. Or check their website. You may find yourself as equally pleased as I am!

 

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Memories of This Birder’s Life in Texas

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I haven’t been on Facebook much lately as I’ve been preoccupied with selling our house in Texas and moving permanently to what has been our second home in New Mexico. We made our final trip to Houston last week to pack up our belongings and I was surprised at how much I have missed the birds in our backyard there… birds we don’t have in our backyard in New Mexico, including the beauties shown here (blue jay, black-capped chickadee, cardinal).

As my husband gingerly pulled down the vacated bird houses and uprooted the shepherd’s hooks and cement birdbath to take to our little slice of heaven in New Mexico, I started to cry. A rush of memories swept over me as I recalled every tender moment I had spent feeding, photographing, and talking to the birds in our backyard there.  I remembered:

  • The red shouldered hawk who took down a white-winged dove just 10 feet away from me, and how conflicted I felt at the sight
  • Watching a male cardinal court his mate by feeding her as part of their mating ritual
  • The sweet little wren tugging at pieces of straw from the weathered wicker basket, only to fly away with her just reward as she prepared a nest in the neighbor’s yard
  • The activity and chatter of the many families of blue jays over the years, and how they would chastise me when the feeders were empty
  • The hum of the hummingbirds at the feeders I’d put out in September and October so they could fill their bellies before moving on to their next stop on their path of migration
  • The many early mornings of sitting out back with my camera and cup of fresh hot coffee, listening to the symphony of birds before the rest of the neighborhood had cranked up their powered lawn mowers

Even now, as I reminisce over the birds in our backyard in Texas I am so very grateful for the many pictures I had taken over the years. By taking all these photographs, I have created and salvaged my own sweet memories.

 

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Birds and the Circle of Life

Wham!

I shuddered. I recognized that sound.

It was so loud it made me jump right up out of my chair and I went running to the back porch to see if the worst had indeed happened. And it had.  In spite of taking every precaution to avoid window collisions, underneath the window pane, on top of the chip bark below, lay the tragedy.  The robin was beautiful.  She took a few short and final breaths before flying off to bird heaven, and I shed a tear.

I always shed a tear when I lose one of the precious birds that comes to visit our sanctuary. After all, they are only responding to my beck and call.  They can’t refuse an invitation to dine at our feeders or drink from our watering holes.  And my husband has to remind me time and time again that with a habitat like ours, we’re likely to have some casualties.  Logically, yes I know that.  Emotionally, it still breaks my heart.  And so I ALWAYS shed a tear.

“I’ll remove it for you when I get back from town,” he said as he left for his appointment.

I wondered… maybe removing the bird wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I need to let the circle of life play out a little bit.  After all, our bird sanctuary is also a wildlife habitat, and I wondered what wildlife might benefit from our dearly departed.  So, I did some research and discovered that there are many species of wildlife that will consume a bird that has already, shall we say, expired including:

  • feral cats
  • rats
  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • some squirrels and chipmunks
  • carrion-eating bird species like crows, seagulls, vultures
  • hawks and owls

I also discovered that most rodents are really omnivores, and will eat insects or meat whenever they can get it.

The reality of the freezing temperatures and scarce natural water sources swirled around in my mind. Winter can be harsh enough for the wildlife and so I decided to let come what may.  I’ll leave the sweet girl where she is and trust that God will use her to provide for some other creature in need… one with a hearty and grateful appetite.

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The Facts of Life – A Lesson in the Birds and the Butterflies

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Warning: You may get butterflies in your stomach while reading this!

On a flight from California to New Mexico last week I read an article in Southwest Magazine about the monarch butterflies. The article explained that last winter, monarch butterflies covered 9.9 acres of forest in central Mexico, more than three times the previous year.

This is great news for monarch conservation efforts. And, although the monarch population has declined significantly in recent years, efforts suggest the monarchs’ reign will stretch to 14.8 acres by 2020. And who doesn’t LOVE butterflies?

This is also great news for birds! Why? Because one food source for birds is… you guessed it, BUTTERFLIES!

Did you know? Many people believe birds won’t eat monarch butterflies. That’s because monarchs taste bad to many birds as a result of the caterpillars having eaten milkweed. Once a bird tastes a monarch, they don’t want to try another one. (Talk about a natural deterrent!) However, many birds will still eat them. In fact, according to the Monarch Program (California Monarch Studies, Inc.):

  • Birds not affected by the toxic cardiac glycosides in milkweed plants, like the California Towhee, will consume large amounts of monarch larvae.
  • Birds with digestive tracks tolerant of the high levels of the milkweed poisons, including the Cassin’s Kingbird, Rufous-Sided Towhee, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees and Scrub Jays, will consume healthy amounts of adult monarch butterflies.
  • Two bird species prey extensively on monarchs, the Black-Backed Oriole and Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a fascinating phenomenon because the monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, just like birds do. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter and may fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home! This is really remarkable.

Personally, I hope the monarch conservation efforts continue to be successful. Not just because monarchs are so important to our environment, but also because they help feed some of my favorite backyard birds!

I know.  Such is the circle of life.

 

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12 Ways to Support National Bird Feeding Month

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Did you know? The average wild bird weighs less than two nickels, and winter can be a very punishing time for our backyard friends.  This explains why in 1994, John Porter, Illinois’ 10th District Congressman read a resolution that February would become National Bird Feeding Month. His proclamation was designed to encourage people to feed wild birds throughout the entire month when food sources are most scarce.

In fact, millions of wild bird enthusiasts now traditionally make special efforts in February to feed, watch and protect wild birds. Over 50 million people regularly feed wild birds in the USA, long recognized as one of the most popular outdoor activities for adults and children too.

Want to show your support? Here are some ways you can get involved:

  1. Help spread the word by sharing this post with everyone you know.
  2. Comment about National Bird Feeding Month on your Social Media Platforms.
  3. Take pictures of birds at your feeder and post them on your Social Media Platforms using #natlbirdfeedingmonth.
  4. Familiarize yourself with our unsung heroes and share your knowledge with others.
  5. Stock up on bird seed and suet to keep your existing feeders full throughout the month.
  6. Make this easy DIY bird feeder to pass out to friends and colleagues on Valentine’s Day.
  7. Give an inexpensive feeder and wild bird seed to someone you love.
  8. Add something new to your backyard station (i.e. birdhouse, feeder, birdbath).
  9. Symbolically adopt a bird through the National Wildlife Federation adoption program.
  10. Purchase your “I Love My Backyard Birds” women’s Tee to show your love of birds.
  11. Host a bird-watching party in your own backyard.
  12. Sign up for the Great Backyard Bird Count which will be held between Feb 17 and Feb 20.

February is one of my favorite months of the year, and even more so because it’s National Bird Feeding Month. In fact, just last weekend I purchased another 80 lbs. of wild bird seed to stock up. Yep, we’re going through that much in about a month’s time, so if the birds aren’t in your backyard they’re probably in mine. Lol.

Anyway, I’m hoping you’ll jump on my bandwagon and do your part to feed the birds this month and promote backyard birding as and educational and environmental adventure. Because, February really is for the Birds! Literally.

 

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