Tag Archives: backyard birding

How Avian Pox Helped Me Realize My Birding Addiction

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What if you were told you couldn’t feed or water the birds in your backyard for an entire month? No seeds.  No suet.  No thistle.  No water.

Yep, I cried.  Then I panicked!  And then I became aware of my birding addiction.

A bird expert with US Fish & Game recently confirmed that we are indeed having an outbreak of Avian Pox at our place.   Avian pox is a slowly developing disease of birds caused by several different strains of avipoxvirus.  A variety of birds worldwide, including upland gamebirds, songbirds, marine birds, and the parrot family can become infected. Transmission occurs via direct contact with infected birds, ingestion of food and water contaminated by sick birds or carcasses, or contact with contaminated surfaces such as bird feeders and perches. It’s a terrible virus and can be a significant mortality factor in some wild bird populations.

I took these pictures of an infected Pygmy Nuthatch. You can see the lesions at the base of its beak. And it’s the Nuthatches that are severely infected in my area.

Unfortunately, it’s been suggested that I take down all my feeders and baths, wash them thoroughly with a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water, and leave everything down for one month; that’s how long it can take for the virus to run its course through an entire flock.

The thought of taking down my feeders for an entire month caused me to gasp!  I suddenly couldn’t breathe and beads of sweat welled up on my forehead.  Holy cow!  What will I do if I can’t feed my birds???

I’m about two weeks into the process and not putting out bird seed and suet has been really tough.  I pass by my favorite bird-watching windows and… nothing!  The feeding frenzy and excitement, the glorious singing and frolicking, have all come to a complete stop!  I swear I got the shakes this past weekend from withdrawals.  And my mind keeps racing with ways to cheat!  What if I just sprinkle a little food on the ground for the juncos?  Or what if I hold in my outstretched hand a small bowl of black oil sunflower seed to attract a few chickadees?  Or what if I spread butter bark on the tree and only feed the woodpeckers?  That can’t hurt, can it?  Sigh.

I could feed and water the birds every day AS LONG AS I also decontaminate all the feeders and baths with the bleach solution mentioned above, but I don’t really have time to that every day.  And the real risk is in attracting all the sick birds back to my place so they can continue spreading the virus back and forth to each other.  NOT a good solution!

Yep, I have a birding addiction.  And, yes, I’ve cheated in all the ways mentioned above!  But I’m also learning how to spend my time participating in our wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary in different ways.  Here’s how I’ve been spending my time…

  1. I’m spending more time reading about birds in my bird magazines and books; and I’d forgotten just how many back issues I have!
  2. I’m focusing on other wildlife, including the deer, squirrels, and butterflies – it is spring after all!
  3. I am carefully cleaning all 17 bird feeders and 3 bird baths and sterilizing them with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water; they are setting aside until I can put them out again in May
  4. I am spending many mornings having coffee by myself, missing the birds that weren’t there to greet me, and reflecting on how their presence is a gift and good for my spirit; find us on Facebook and you can see the many videos posted of me having coffee with the various birds at our place
  5. I’m enjoying the arrival of the hummingbirds and learning as much as I can about them; since they drink nectar I decided that was a safe bet
  6. I look father than my front and back porches for birds by walking the property and seeing what’s going on at the neighbor’s house
  7. I check our wildlife trail cam more frequently and move it about the property to see what other animals might be passing through our wildlife habitat

Avian Pox is a terrible thing, but my birding addiction might be worse and I’m wondering if there are 12 step meetings for this particular vice!  Hmmm.  However, if I look on the bright side (I think folks in recovery call this having an attitude of gratitude), I’m getting a chance to participate in our wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary in different ways, and I’m discovering how that in and of itself is also an incredible blessing! Just take a look at the deer video below and you’ll see what I mean.

 

My Backyard Birding New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not usually one for New Year’s Resolutions but as I reflect on my birding adventures over the last year I realize there were several things I wanted to do but never got around to.  Attending the Festival of Cranes and celebrating the return of Sandhill cranes to Bosque del Apache is one terrific example. And I can’t for the life of me remember why I didn’t make that event.  So this year I’ve decided to be more intentional in my birding pursuits by proactively planning activities I know will enhance my birding adventure!  And I’ve decided to make sure I do one new thing each month.  So, with the New Year upon us, here is my list of self-promises for the year:

  1. Maintain and update regularly our range map of the birds in our backyard, tracking the bird species that visit each month and then comparing those visitors to last year’s visitors in the same month.
  2. Keep an eagle eye out for new bird species visiting our backyard and learning as much about them as possible.
  3. Visit a local birding hot-spot over a weekend or day trip and identify birds we don’t usually get in our own backyard.
  4. Attend a birding festival I haven’t been to yet, and more specifically attend the Festival of Cranes!
  5. Encourage new species to visit our feeders by placing out a feeder designed just for them.
  6. Attract new bird species to our backyard by adding a new and different food source; this year I’ll try fresh fruit.
  7. Determine to see a bird I’ve been wanting to see and make the necessary arrangements to do so; the Barn owl is coming to mind at the moment.
  8. Join a local Audubon chapter and get involved in their events and activities.
  9. Plant a bird-friendly hedge, tree, or climbing plant that is native to our region.
  10. Learn to make a DIY food source like home-made suet.
  11. Freshen up our backyard by adding a new garden accessory, like a new bird house, feeder, or bath.
  12. Visit a birding retail store and see what’s new on the market.

What do you think?  Any of these resonate with you?  If so, feel free to borrow any of my resolutions for yourself.  I don’t mind.

And from my backyard to yours… Happy Birding!

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Ravens and Owls and Bear, Oh My!

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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.

Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of our Wildlife Habitat!

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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.

My Backyard Birding Manifesto

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?

 

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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.