Feed the birds, enjoy the show

Sitting at the dining room window with my mother-in-law this past week, we spotted a black phoebe, a bird I hadn't seen before. She is new to watching the birds and enjoys seeing them come to her birdbath. I have been watching birds for more than 20 years and I still delight in spotting something new. I keep a pair of binoculars and a bird book near most windows at home, logging anything unusual or first sightings for the season.

Birding is fun. It's interesting to explore the diversity of these winged critters in and around our yards. I'm fortunate to live in Washoe Valley because Washoe Lake and the Muskgrove Creek next to my house attract many traditional and unexpected species. Tundra swans come regularly, usually in February. Of course, Canadian geese are common. Whenever a flock flies over honking, it makes my day. The great white pelicans are there most of the year and their choreographed flight is an elegant sight.

I put feeders out in the late fall or early winter when I know I will be home to keep them stocked. Many people choose to put feeders and birdbaths out to attract birds. Sometimes people don't realize that once a feeder has provided food to the birds, it needs to be kept full through the entire winter. Otherwise, the birds lose a necessary food source for survival. After all, they stuck around instead of flying to warmer climes because you fed them. They become a responsibility.

I hang refillable yellow sock feeders full of black thistle for the lesser and American goldfinches, house finches and chickadees. I put up suet feeders for the woodpeckers, although it's funny to watch the scrub jays and magpies hanging upside down trying to get at it. I fill bird feeders with black sunflower seeds to entice the black and evening grosbeaks to the yard. All the birds love these. I scatter a cracked corn-birdseed mix on the ground for the quail, mourning doves and other ground feeders such as the rufus-sided towhees.

Every morning, before we go to work, my husband and I make sure all the birds are fed. Fortunately, we have the creek so we don't have to provide water. Birds need a daily water source too.

Birding supplies such as feeders, binoculars and bird books make great gifts. Share a living gift with a loved one!

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.


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