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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why is feeding birds such a popular, year-'round hobby?

Suet feeder
Thistle feeder

Window/tray feeder

Lots of people feed birds in north Texas – it’s one of the biggest hobbies there is, for Texans of any age. But WHY do it at all?  And, what does it take for someone to get started?

First let me say that there are no rules and procedures. None! There is no club to join (unless you want to), there’s no “must” wearing apparel, and you don’t have to travel anywhere (again, unless you want to). Getting started is as simple as hanging a birdfeeder in your yard, and filling it with fresh seed that north Texas birds like. You can do it every month of the year. Your interest will probably build exponentially from there.

You don’t even have to buy a birdfeeder. You could merely put fresh seed on a plate on the ground if you like (it works, but has drawbacks). Or you could just put a peanut butter sandwich in the fork of a tree (remember; there are no rules). Of course, there are extra things you might do to make your yard its most attractive to birds.

If you were to ask someone why they feed birds, he or she’d hem and haw a bit before answering something like “it’s fun”. It just makes you feel good – you instantly become part of nature when you put out a birdfeeder. You feel an indescribable emotion when you see a flash of color from your window, or watch an unusual species feast on food you gave them.

A few avid birdwatchers have a way of making the rest of us feel insignificant.  It doesn’t matter, however, if the bird you’re seeing is a Northern Harrier, a Lesser Goldfinch or an Indigo Bunting. That may or may not come later. All you really need to know now is that there are several very good reasons to start feeding birds.

  • Feeding birds is something you can do year-'round. Any time of year is the best time; birds are always hungry. And there are always birds around -'though the species may differ seasonally.
  • It’s inexpensive. Very few hobbies are as inexpensive as feeding birds. Part of the reason is that it’s done in your own yard – no travel required.
  • It’s calming and relaxing. Few things are more blissful than looking out your window at several carefree birds on your feeder, knowing that you’re responsible for their food.
  • It’s educational. Seeing things like courting rituals, eggs hatching, “pecking order” at feeders, fledglings being taught where to eat etc. is profoundly instructional.
  • It controls bugs. Since most birds eat bugs by the thousands, birds are cheaper and safer by far than whatever chemical you’ve been spraying.
  • It’s physically undemanding. Even if you have difficulty walking (or almost any other disability) you can handle birdwatching.
  • It helps them stay in their habitat. Your house probably sits where some birds used to live - eliminating their food sources and habitat. Mine does! To help set matters straight, we owe it to them.

Getting started doesn’t take much effort at all. Just put out a birdfeeder (or 2, or 3, or 4), and go back inside. A word of advice: get feeders that are well designed and well-built. Few things are as discouraging as a feeder that falls apart during the first squirrel encounter, or one that doesn’t last through a severe storm. Also, if you have a lot of trees, be certain a new feeder is really squirrel-proof – printing nice words on the box isn’t enough.
hopper feeder
squirrel-proof feeder

Fill it, or them, with good-quality, fresh seed (the kinds that north Texas birds like) and just sit back and enjoy. That’s all!

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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