In the Garden:
Feeding and watching birds can provide a lifetime of pleasure.
A Legacy With Wings
For my family, the love of plants and birds has always been inseparable. Anytime we were enjoying one, most likely we were also appreciating the other. We would listen to the pure, clear notes of the wood thrush as we searched out woodland wildflowers, and stop to watch the sandhill cranes fly over as we cleaned up the garden in spring and fall. We'd laugh at the antics of the mockingbird as it chased the cat about the yard while we were weeding, and be astounded by the pileated woodpecker hanging upside-down from the topmost branches while munching frozen persimmons. Memories and stories abound that combine these two loves.
If you have paid little notice to birds heretofore, I would admonish you to begin now. If you already notice them, make even more time for them. Learning to know and love birds can provide a lifetime of pleasure. Recently, as my mother's health failed, it was the hummingbirds drinking nectar just outside her window, and the finches, cardinals, and even some warblers, that showed up at the feeders filled year-round with thistle and sunflower seed that brought her joy.
Birding Organizations Worth Knowing
A lifelong gift for yourself -- as well as your children, grandchildren, or the neighbor's children -- would be to fill bird feeders this winter and then simply watch. Several nationwide projects that encourage even more learning and invite whole family participation include the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and the eBird Site Survey. There is a nominal fee for most of these because they are sponsored by non-profit organizations that rely primarily on participant and membership fees.
This year marks the 105th Christmas Bird Count by the National Audubon Society, which runs from December 14, 2004 until January 5, 2005. This is the longest-running database in ornithology, representing over a century of unbroken data on trends in early winter bird populations across America. This data provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years. For more information, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html.
Project FeederWatch, conducted from November through early April, is a project led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders in backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. Basically, it involves counting during all or part of two consecutive days at least every two weeks. Further details can be found at: http:/www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw.
The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of Audubon and Cornell, is a four-day count from February 18 to 21, 2005. You can identify species coming to your backyard feeders or ones seen on a day's outing at a wildlife refuge. This count provides a snapshot of late-winter bird movement. Combined with the Christmas Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, the data collected gives an immense picture of our winter birds, providing an opportunity for scientists to see patterns and discover new questions and insights. For details, check out: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc.
Be sure to also visit the entire BirdSource Website (http://www.birdsource.org) for information-packed links to bird feed and feeders, bird identification, gardening for birds and wildlife, and much more.
Finally, for those who want to just keep counting, there is the opportunity to report your observations year-round to eBird (http://www.ebird.org), an online database program that's also a joint project of Audubon and Cornell. Although amazingly complex, it actually provides a simple way for you to keep track of the birds you see anywhere in North America, either at home or on outings. Your own information can be retrieved at any time, plus you can also access the entire historical database to find out what other eBirders are reporting from across North America. Ultimately, the eBird database provides invaluable information for scientists, conservationists, and educators, as well as those who simply love birds, gardening, and nature.
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