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Backyard Bird-Watching

Bird watching is one of America's fastest-growing hobbies, and creating a backyard habitat is a convenient way to enjoy these fine-feathered friends. Surveys reveal that nearly half the households in the United States provide food and shelter for wild birds. What has made watching birds the fastest growing hobby in the country second only to gardening? Their colorful and entertaining presence is fascinating to observe, especially through the long, dreary days of winter. Birdwatchers are always excited about seeing the birds enter and leave their houses year after year. Providing shelter can make birds' lives easier too. Winter is a difficult time for birds, and finding shelter can be especially challenging during periods of extreme cold.

McDonald offers a complete line of Stovall specialty birdhouses. Stovall offers high quality wood feeders and wild bird houses. Houses are made from all western red cedar and are constructed and assembled with stainless steel and dichromate plated screws, washers, hooks and chains. Products are hand sanded and many products are coated with wood protector, which accentuates the wood grain and the natural warmth of cedar. These long-lasting, traditional houses come in all shapes and sizes to fit the needs of many types of birds including wren, woodpecker, bluebird and many more.

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The Treat Tree

Repurpose your Christmas tree for feathered friends.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree … how beautiful you glow … but now you need to go. Hold that thought. Yes, days after December 25th, your once glowing Christmas tree looks a little sad – and probably dry. Before you toss the no-longer-needed tree in the trash, give some thought to how it can be used outdoors.

It’s fun for all ages to transform an indoor Christmas tree into an outdoor “treat tree” for songbirds. For eye-catching treats, collect 12 to 18 pinecones. Use a popsicle stick or old butter knife to smear peanut butter over each pinecone. Fill an old dish or sturdy paper plate with bird seed of any kind and roll the peanut butter-smeared pinecones in the seed mix. Use twine or leftover gift ribbons to loop a hanger around the top portion of the pinecone. Hang the pinecones on your “treat tree.”

The tree can also support homemade suet feeders, using half of hollowed-out orange and grapefruit skins. Suet can be made from any seed, grain, nuts, fruits and raisins by mixing them with warmed bacon fat, lard or peanut butter. Peanut butter can be mixed with cornmeal or oatmeal to form a suet mixture, too. Place the suet in a tuna or cat food can or similar to container to chill until firm. Cookie cutters can be used for fancier shapes that can be hung.

To embellish your wildlife tree further, string together overripe fruits – blueberries, cranberries, grapes, even slices of oranges and apples. Weave the garland loosely around the tree. Popcorn works, too. Cheerios are easy for youngster’s small hands to string. With winter’s cold temps, your “treat tree” will offer several weeks of much-needed healthy eating for the beautiful birds that will thank you with songs and sensational sights.

photos from Kathy Van Mullekom

The Nature-Friendly Garden

Birds feed, nest and relax in our nature-friendly garden.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Our yard is designed and planted for birds – lots of them.

In addition to trees and shrubs that benefit songbirds, the yard features feeders and nesting boxes that invite them to live with us.

For food, there’s a meal worm feeder for bluebirds, nut feeder for woodpeckers, thistle feeder for finches, safflower feeder for cardinals and black oil sunflower seed and suet feeders for anyone and everyone.

Overripe blueberries, apple bits and orange and banana slices are available in a fly-through feeder. All feeders are caged or baffled to keep out intruders like squirrels and raccoons.

This time of year, the birds really begin to depend on the feeders because most natural seeds, berries and insects are gone, which means my feeders need filling daily.

Here’s what our birds like best:

  • Mealworms -- bluebirds.
  • Sunflower meats -- bluebirds, warblers, robins and woodpeckers.
  • Sunflower -- chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, blackbirds and jays.
  • White millet -- ground-feeding birds like towhees, juncos, song sparrows, doves and Indigo bunting.
  • Safflower -- cardinal, chickadees and titmice.
  • Nyger, or thistle -- finches.
  • Corn -- jays.
  • Suet -- most birds; woodpeckers especially like peanut-filled suet.

If you would like to learn more about local birds, there are two good birding clubs – the Williamsburg Bird Club at www.williamsburgbirdclub.org and Hampton Roads Bird Club at www.hamptonroadsbirdclub.org. Each offers interesting monthly programs as well as regular birding walks.

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