Category Archives: Bird Feeding and Watching

Birds and the Circle of Life


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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Birds: The Unsung Heroes

Have you ever noticed how connecting with Birds just makes you feel better? Emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually? When we take time to admire the birds, we admire their beauty, their song, and their ability to fly.  We also admire their importance to the ecosystem. That’s right. Birds provide many direct and indirect contributions to the environment.  But what exactly are those contributions?

I pondered this question myself and I have to confess my embarrassment about not having a more elegant or scientific response. Other than just thoroughly enjoying every chance I get to observe the birds in my backyard and experience a deeper connection to God through them, I am sometimes at a loss for words to explain to others why birds matter so much. (Tell me I’m not alone in that! Lol).

In an article posted by the Audubon, I learned some interesting facts.  Did you know…

  • Birds contribute to the diversity of plant life through seed dispersal (most song birds) and pollination (900+ bird species worldwide).
  • Birds control insect outbreaks by consuming large quantities of mosquitoes, caterpillars, beetles, and moths, and are known to have saved many potato fields, fruit orchards, organic wineries, and cranberry bogs from insect devastation.
  • Birds help rid the world of disease through scavenger “clean-up” services, including roadkill produced on our roads and highways.
  • Birds stimulate economies and tourism in many parts of the world, spending some $41 billion annually on birding activities (including travel, technology, and education) in the U.S. alone.
  • Birds serve as indicators of environmental health and change to climate, habitat, and weather.
  • Bird as a hobby, including watching and learning their names and how to identify them, improves both cognition and mental health.
  • Birds serve as a subject of poetic meditation and focal point for various art forms, including water colored paintings, cross-stitched linens, antiqued brooches, and porcelain china.

The last ten years has seen an explosion of research on this subject, resulting in a strong body of evidence to support bird protection. “For better or worse, economic arguments tend to get more attention in political debates,” says Geoffrey Heal, a microeconomist at Columbia University Business School. The new research, he says, strengthens the case that “most environmental conservation, if well structured, actually does pay off directly.”

It turns out birds aren’t just luxuries for hobbyists or environmental fanatics. They’re actually unsung heroes.

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What Exactly is Backyard Birding Anyway?

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Good question!  Backyard birding is defined by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as “watching birds around the home,” and it’s considered the most common form of bird-watching.  It’s also a very lucrative industry.

Did you know?

  • To be counted as a birder, an individual must have either taken a trip one mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home.
  • At last count (2011), there were 47 million birders in the US, about 20% of the population.
  • 88% of birders are backyard birders, watching birds from the comfort of their homes.
  • Backyard Birders spent nine times as many days watching birds as did people who traveled more than a mile from home to bird watch.

So, if you’re a backyard birder like me, take comfort in knowing that you’re part of a growing movement! One that spends some $41 billion annually on birding activities, including travel, technology, and education.

Want to know what a birder looks like? Lol. According to Market Analysis of Bird-Based Tourism: A Focus on the U.S. Market to Latin America and the Caribbean Including Fact Sheets on The Bahamas, Belize, Guatemala, Paraguay, the profile of a US birder is:

  • Highly educated
  • Higher annual income
  • Middle-aged and elderly (okay, that one hurts)
  • Slightly more female than male
  • Usually travel solo or with a partner, rather than in large groups
  • Members of local bird clubs
  • Spend 13-14 days birding away from home

BTW, I’m considered an “Enthusiastic Birder.” Which one are you?

Either way, I’d say you’re in great company.

National Bird Holidays

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As we enter the New Year, now is a great time to get out our calendars and mark down those important dates we want to remember, honor, and celebrate.  Here are a few national bird holidays to jot down as well!  Note: These dates are specific to holidays in the United States.

And feel free to download the Bird Holiday Infographic below in PDF version for referencing again later.


When Dehydration is a Greater Threat for Birds Than Starvation

Dehydration is a greater threat for birds than starvation during the winter months, when fresh water sources are scarce.  And that’s when we can help!  Watch this short video to better understand how we can help birds by providing fresh water when temperatures drop below freezing.


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Of Course Birds Have Facial Expressions!

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On my flight from Albuquerque to Houston last week, I read a fascinating little ditty in Southwest: The Magazine (October 2016) about horses having 17 distinct facial expressions.  I was intrigued to learn that humans, by comparison, can make 27 discrete movements, chimpanzees 13, cats 21, and dogs 16.

I sat back in my seat (well, as far back as one can sit in an airplane seat) and wondered… how many facial expressions do birds have?

After several hours of online investigation, I found myself disappointed by the lack of research and expert opinions; seems information on this subject is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Eventually I found solace in an article by Jessica Bridgers, “Rats Understand & React to Facial Expressions of Other Rats, but What About Birds?

Jessica explains, “A quick search of Google for ‘facial expressions in birds’ brings up many descriptions by those familiar with birds that confirm my observation: Yes birds do indeed have facial expressions. However, using the same search terms on Google Scholar shows that science has not yet caught up with this notion. This underscores the fact that just because an idea has not yet been scientifically tested does not mean that it is not true, and prods us to use the precautionary approach where hard evidence for animal sentience and cognition is not yet available.”

Her comments resonated with me and surprised me at the same time. I see hundreds of social media posts each week featuring photographic images of various facial expressions on birds, and that alone begs the question – why hasn’t there been any research on this?  There is research on migration patterns of birds, the impact of birds on the environment, and how to save threatened bird species.  Why has there not been any research on how birds use facial expressions to communicate with each other (let alone with us humans)?

After much thought and a few more searches, I finally agreed with Jessica’s conclusion that “just because no one has investigated whether birds have facial expressions yet does not mean they do not have them.” While research on this subject may be inconclusive, my gut tells me that birders around the world will agree that birds do have facial expressions. And I have pictures to prove it.  Don’t you?


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Plant a Hedgerow and the Birds will thank you for it!

Birds cannot survive on sunflower seeds alone! In fact, birds cannot survive on anything provided by man alone. They also require natural sources of food, water, and shelter if they are to nest, raise their young, and prosper. That became clear to me as I shared the details of my Bird-Sanctuary Fund Raiser with other birding experts.  Soooo…

I decided to plant some native shrubs to our area and provide natural food and shelter for the birds. Yep!  I decided to create a hedgerow.

What’s a hedgerow?  A hedgerow is a hedge of wild shrubs and trees, typically bordering a road or field. And, hedgerows, if designed properly, can be an attractive and functional place for birds to nest or feed!

And, because planning is a critical first step to any success, I had to do some research. I wanted to identify the plants best suited for my design and since we already have plenty of seed-bearing trees on our property, and tons of juniper trees, I knew I wanted something that would bear more fruit. I also wanted shrubs that would provide for nesting, and I needed plants that were hardy for our garden region zone, zone 6.

After assessing the size of shrubs, zone hardiness, and blooming seasons, I narrowed my list to the following:

  • Serviceberry
  • Mountain ninebark
  • Western Sandcherry
  • Skunkbush Sumac

Doing some online research helped me make the final decision: the Skunkbush Sumac (3-leaf).

Then, I needed to design my hedgerow. On a recent flight back to New Mexico I carefully pulled out my favorite journal, set it delicately next to my plastic cup of red wine on the pull down serving tray, and proceeded to sketch out a few design options and location strategies.  I mentally thought through the size and spacing of my plantings, whether or not staking would be required, how visible my design would be from our front patio porch and windows (for observational purposes and photographs), and what we could afford in terms of investment.


Next steps will be to walk my property to determine the best location and if my “plan” will work without major changes.  And then a trip to the nursery!


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Tips for Photographing Backyard Birds: How to Look Like a Pro

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I get compliments all the time on the pictures of my backyard birds, and I get questions at least half the time on my tricks of the trade.  Lol.  AND… I’m no professional.  But, I am willing to share.   Take a look at this video of my tried and true photography trips.  And happy picture-taking!