A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.
– Joan Walsh Anglund
There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.
Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.
Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.
Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape. A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.
I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.
There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.
Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture, a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.
With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.
Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.
Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?
Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”
If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.
Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.
Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.
I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”
I have never
seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”
If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.