February is National Bird Feeding Month, and naturally Mass Audubon is a place I look to for ideas and activities to help celebrate our feathered friends, from bird-feeder workshops to the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
Mass Audubon formerly ran a program called Focus on Feeders, but this year it phased that independent project out and asked members to participant instead in Cornell’s Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 18th year. The annual four-day event engages bird watchers around the country in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.
This year it will be held February 13 to 16. Participants are asked to count birds and report their sightings online. Anyone can take part in the count, from beginning bird watchers to experts. Last year, according to the organization, participants turned in more than 144,000 online checklists, creating the world’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.
Whether or not you and your kids participate in the bird count, a great backyard project is to build a feeder and see which birds come to visit. The North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, Mass., is hosting a family workshop on February 7. During the hands-on activity, you’ll construct a hanging feeder that can be used all year, as well as a special feeder used to attract orioles returning in the spring. Check with Mass Audubon for other events like this one.
If you want to get your kids excited about birds in a really easy (and fast) way, all you need is a pine cone and some peanut butter. Simply spread the peanut butter on the cone and hang it up in your yard. Once the kids see its popularity, they might be ready for more ambitious projects. Keeping a log of birds’ visits or sketching the birds is another fun winters’ day project.
Bird Feeder Tips from Mass Audubon
Up, Up and Away
Birds are vulnerable to predators such as cats and hawks, and as a result, they seek feeders that offer the protection of nearby trees or shrubs. Squirrels seem to have an uncanny ability to thwart all attempts to exclude them from feeders. When placing a feeder, keep in mind that squirrels can jump 6 feet up in the air and launch themselves, from a tree or building, to a feeder 10 feet away. Feeders placed 12 to 15 feet from trees and shrubs should provide shelter for the birds but discourage squirrels from leaping onto the feeder.
What’s on the Menu?
Different birds prefer different types of seed, but black oil sunflower seeds appear to be the favorite of the most bird species. It is the preferred seed for the black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white and red-breasted nuthatches, northern cardinal, evening and rose-breasted grosbeaks, and house finch and is probably the second choice for blue jays. Niger (thistle) seed, placed in feeders designed to hold this small seed, attracts American goldfinches, house finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.
Just a Helping Hand
If you’re worried that you’ll be a bird’s only source of food, don’t. Most birds depend on our handouts for only about 25 percent of their food. Feeder offerings only supplement their natural foods. When a food supply disappears in one location, they will move on and look for other sources.Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog.