Living the Wild Life
by Doreen S Damm
Yes, it’s that time again. The snow birds are returning to their winter homes here in Florida. Not the two legged kind, but the two winged kind. The northern birds are starting to migrate and this is the perfect time to do a little bird watching.
I’ve been bird watching since I was a young child and was suitably nick named “Dorie Bird.” While vacationing at my grandparents, you could always find me up a tree whistling to my feathered friends. They lived next to a bird sanctuary, which provided us with a wide variety of species.
We would be awakened a half hour before sunrise to fill the feeders and sit quietly as the birds began to sing. It would not be long before they would start to arrive with first light. The early bird did not get the worm, but had dibs on the choice seed. It was then that I learned to identify birds not only by sight but by their calls.
I did not return to bird watching until I met my husband. Although he was neither a gardener nor a wildlife enthusiast, he found joy in watching me get excited about planting a bird garden. As the birds started showing up, I would explain their behavior and soon it was not just a matter of watching birds eat, but watching birds interact with the environment. If you asked him 20 years ago if he was going to be a bird watcher, he would have sternly said “not in a million years.” Now he cannot image his life without relaxing in the garden and enjoying the many visitors we have to our small, but active, wildlife garden.
To start your own bird garden, all you need is food, water and shelter. This can be as simple as a flat surface to scatter seed, a shallow container to hold an inch of water and a potted tree or shrub grouped together, or as elaborate as feeding stations, waterfalls and mass plantings of Florida friendly plants and of course anything in between.
Once the birds have found your offerings, which could take a few weeks, you will be on their daily route. Just like a bus, they follow a
scheduled route stopping at their favorite places. My choice for seed is a nut and berry blend to which I add chopped unsalted peanuts. The birds love it and there is little to no waste so my garden loves it too (ideal for patio feeding). To attract birds faster, especially the migrating ones, you need the sound of running water. A bubbler in a bird bath or a spouting figure in a small pond with do the trick. Birds can hear it from miles away and will flock to the sound the splashing water makes. I made a 30 foot long above ground stream in my wildlife garden and while several birds choose to bathe in it rather than the bird baths, the running water is simply irresistible to the flocks of Robins that are passing through.
There are many websites to help you become a successful birder online. You can ID birds at www.whatbird.com . You can record your personal birding list at EBird.org and contribute your observations to science and conservation. If apps are more your style, download the Merlin Bird ID App for help with 400 North American birds at merlin.allaboutbirds.org . Lastly, you can join the local chapter of the Audubon Society at www.westpascoaudubon.com
Doreen S. Damm
Nature Photographer &