About seven years ago, my husband and I moved into a house with a large, open backyard that’s surrounded by woods and heavy brush. We love the feeling of being “away from it all” when, in reality, we’re pretty close to it all—if you consider “it all” to be the northern Buffalo suburbs.
The move also turned me into an avid bird watcher. While it’s a hobby I thoroughly enjoy year ‘round, spring is the season we bird nerds look forward to the most. So, I thought that May would be the perfect month to share some of my experiences and a few true confessions.
1. I’ve identified nearly 50 different species of birds and waterfowl in, around and over my home. This includes some species that you wouldn’t expect to find in Clarence, NY, such as an Osprey that was munching on what I suspect was a very expensive dinner in our front yard. With a diet comprised exclusively of fish, this enterprising Osprey had snagged a large koi from someone’s pricey pond nearby.
2. During the spring and summer, I go through more grape jelly than your average preschool. Why? It’s the preferred treat of my very favorite bird, the Baltimore Oriole. This has less to do with my long-suffering support of the Maryland baseball team (yes, I am an Os fan) and more to do with the stunning beauty of the males’ vibrant orange feathers. I’ve even spotted their unique basket nests hanging from tree branches at the edge of my yard. Around the beginning of May, the male Oriole scouts begin to arrive to claim their breeding territory. I can hear them singing high in the trees all day long to attract their mates. Frequently, they pause to visit our feeders for jelly, bits of orange slices and sips of hummingbird nectar. Once the young birds can leave the nest (around early July), I love to watch the adult Orioles gather up jelly in their own beaks and feed it to their babies.
3. I go to great lengths (10 feet to be exact) to make sure our bird food is eaten by birds, not other woodland creatures. Along with the birds, we have a large deer population that visits our yard daily for their three, square meals. They love nothing better than to supplement the grass and leaves in their diet with birdseed. When I realized that my seed was disappearing far faster than the birds could possibly eat it, I suspected the deer. When I saw one tip a feeder with its nose and dump the seed on the ground, my suspicions were confirmed. First, I tried mixing cayenne pepper into the bird seed. I did a lot of sneezing, but the birds don’t mind it and the deer are supposedly turned off by the taste. Unless they’re very hungry—in which case, they’ll eat most anything. “An 8-foot pole will do the trick,” I foolishly thought to myself. Nope. Deer are very agile and have no problem balancing on their hind legs to get to the feeders. Finally, I bit the bullet and bought an expensive 10-foot pole with arms for four feeders and a 5-foot pole to help me reach them. Victory (of sorts)!
4. I have an app on my phone that helps me identify birds I don’t recognize. While I realize this sounds exceptionally nerdy, the Merlin app is actually really cool. I just plug in my location and date, the size of the bird, its main colors, and what it’s doing (i.e., eating at a feeder, soaring or flying, etc.), and Merlin gives me a list of possible birds. If you’re even a little interested in birds, I highly recommend this free app.
5. I count the birds at my feeders all winter long. Again, a really nerdy confession, but I participate in Project FeederWatch, a program through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that raises money to protect birds and their habitats and helps track changes in bird migrations and behaviors.
6. I plant flowers to attract certain birds, especially hummingbirds. I get a monthly magazine called Birds and Blooms (oops, there’s another nerdy confession) that often has articles on flowers and plants that will attract specific birds. I’ve learned that hummingbirds like the feeder I put out with a homemade sugar water mixture, but they also love tubular flowers that hold natures nectar.
So, there you have it. I’m an unabashed bird nerd. And I’m anxiously anticipating a summer on my patio watching and listening to these amazing creatures as they sing, feed, raise their young, and bulk up for the end of summer migration to Central America and Mexico.
I hope I’ve given you some reasons to take a look at the bird world for yourself. If so, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website allaboutbirds.org is a great place to start!