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Need a break? Think about putting up a bird feeder

One Writer's Perspective

I was sitting on my deck enjoying a cup of coffee when a female ruby-throated hummingbird landed on one of my feeders. Now, I had been watching a male, and knowing how territorial ruby-throats are, I was not surprised to see him leave his favorite perch and come right for her.

But there was no battle. Instead, they slowly flew beak-to-beak under my legs and did a sort of slow-motion aerial dance until the female landed on the railing. And with that, the male went into his courtship flight. Holding his body in a vertical axis and facing her, he swung back and forth like a miniature circus performer on an invisible trapeze making liquid squeaks and unusual noises with his wings. Then, they flew off together into a honeysuckle thicket. Oh, love!

That was the first time I had observed the male ruby-throat`s courtship display. But it`s certainly not the first time I was a witness to the wonders of nature from the comfort of my home. Want a wildlife adventure but can`t afford an African safari? Then put up a bird feeder.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Grandma`s house in Greenville, sitting in the kitchen, watching the birdfeeders. I’ve been a backyard-feeder and birder ever since. It`s a relaxing and rewarding hobby, one that can be shared with family and friends, and it can be inexpensive, as well. I’m convinced that if more people took the time to really notice birds, birdfeeder sales would skyrocket. Once birds grab you, you’re hooked.

Over the years, I have recruited many friends and family into the world of backyard birders, and, in the main, they have become enthralled, to a greater or lesser degree, by their feathered neighbors. There are some, however, that proved resistant to “birding fever.” They didn`t find that rewarding experience and returned to the non-birding world.

But invariably, they didn`t follow the simple requirements for turning a backyard into an avian playground. And they are simple. It only requires food, water, cleanliness/safety and commitment.

Food is one of the few things that will overcome birds’ inherent fear of man. Whether it`s sugar water for hummingbirds and orioles, seeds for the woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc., or suet and mealworms for the insect-eaters, food is what will bring birds to your back door.

That food must be carefully selected, however. For instance, mixed birdseed, commonly thrown at newlyweds, is less expensive than sunflower seeds or thistle. But many birds don`t like it. They will scratch it out to get to the sunflower seeds, or worse yet, ignore it and it rots in the feeder.

How the food is offered is also important. Mixed birdseed is preferred by some birds such as dove and sparrows. However, most of these birds feed on the ground. They will not land on an elevated bird feeder. On the other hand, throwing sunflower seeds on the ground instead of putting them in a raised feeder is wasteful and ineffective. In short, presentation is crucial.

Water is often overlooked by some. But birds love water, and some birds such as robins and blackbirds may come for it alone. Just as with food, the presentation of water is important. Birds do not like deep water. Many birdbaths, while attractive, are just not made with birds in mind. Remember, birds want shallow, clean water, and because they feel vulnerable after bathing, their wet feathers hampering flight, they need to feel secure while at the birdbath.

Notice I used the words “clean” and “secure.” Everything has its negatives, and with backyard feeding one of those minuses is the mess. Seed hulls, melting suet and bird droppings are just a few of the problems bird-feeders face. And filthy birdbaths are not only unsightly, they can be excellent mosquito-breeding grounds.

Along these same lines, you must offer birds a safe place to feed and bathe. Cat owners who let their pets run free are not candidates for backyard feeders. Dogs will often chase birds, as well. Save yourself the grief – don`t lure birds to your yard just so Fluffy can eat them.

The final key is commitment. Make sure you put out food and water every day or as needed. Keep your feeders and surrounding area clean and safe. It takes a little effort, but this quickly becomes part of the daily routine. Backyard feeding can be inexpensive, though you can spend as much as you like. Birdseed is less expensive when bought in bulk, and county coops can offer excellent buys. Many butchers will give beef suet for free. Stale (but not moldy) bakery products and old (but not rotten) fruit are irresistible to a number of species.

Feeders can run from just a few dollars to more than $100. However, a milk jug with a large hole cut in one side and hung by the handle can be superior to many store-bought seed feeders. A few pieces of wood, some glue and nails, and a homemade platform-type feeder is a breeze. And pine cones make excellent suet/peanut butter feeders.

In today`s fast-paced world, everyone is looking for a stress-reliever. Many are looking for quiet time, as well as quality time, at home with loved ones. Bird-feeding meets both those requirements. Need a break? Then put up a birdfeeder.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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