Friday, January 2, 2009

The Garden Birds

We're off to a genuine winter here in southwestern CT; three significant snowfalls in two weeks brings to mind winters of years gone by, before global warming. The nights are cold, the daytime sun glints off the snow, and the birds are active at the feeders.

It's part of a gardener's imperative to care for their winged visitors. There are several ways we can do this:

Feeders are important, of course. I have two----a finch feeder on my back deck, kept full of a mixture of niger seed and sunflower chips. This one is generally busy with arguing juncos, olive-drab goldfinches and the occasional downy woodpecker. Attached to the deck rail, close to the hanging feeder, is a birdbath complete with an electric de-icer. I keep it filled and cleaned for the birds to drink. And they do. I've never seen them bathe in it, but they sure do drink the water. My best friend, Muriel, on the other hand.....she also keeps a bird bath going in her yard, and darn if she doesn't get bathing birds! Even in the dead of winter.

In the front yard I have an hopper-type feeder, with a perch that dumps off squirrels, and a metal baffle to further discourage them. This feeder is kept full of a mixture of cracked corn, hulled (to keep litter to a minimum) sunflower seed, peanut chips, dried fruit, and whatever else happens to be in the mix I purchase that week. (No millet) Attached to the feeder is a suet cake.

To this feeder & suet come an array of birds and wildlife. It sits directly outside my library window, so as I'm reading or writing I can glance out and see the action. We get cardinals; three different kinds of woodpeckers (red-bellied, downy, hairy); chickadees, blue jays, juncos, wrens, and many more.

Seed spills from the hopper, of course, and this ground bounty feeds the gray squirrels, occasional visiting pheasants, and assorted other wildlife.

What else can a gardener do to sustain the birds? Grow some berrying shrubs, viburnum for instance. Grow crabapples. Leave a few berry-producing wildlings such as pokeweed in the fringes of your yard. (Blubirds love 'em!) When you clean up your garden in the autumn, leave standing such perennials as rudbeckia to provide seeds and winter structure.

Birds add movement, color, sound, and a naturalness to the gardener's attempts to harness nature. They are a integral part of Nature's Design and, as we humans destroy their habitat, it's incumbent upon gardeners as stewards of the earth to do what we can to mitigate the damage.

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