A few mornings ago, I enjoyed the early rays of sunlight while filling the backyard bird feeders.
As I looked upon the leafless bur oaks gracing the woodland and lawn, I recalled that it wasn’t all that long ago when the very leaves now on the ground and underneath several inches of snow were just beginning to uncurl from their buds.
I was delighted by the activity of many white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees busily gathering black oil sunflower seeds and flying off with their prizes to either consume or cache. I also heard the pleasant sing-songs of pine grosbeaks as they waited patiently in the treetops for me to move away from the feeders.
There were also a few boisterous blue jays loitering about in the high limbs of the oaks as they called and cried whatever their pleasure or displeasure could possibly be.
One lone blue jay glided from tree top to tree top until it was perched in the limbs of an oak directly above the feeders and looked inquisitively down at me as if saying, “Why are you here?!” “What’s there to eat?!” “Hurry up!” “Get out of here!”
It occurred to me once again that watching birds outdoors on a calm morning or evening is so much more enjoyable than watching birds from indoors. All the vocalizations, the sound of nuthatches cascading down tree trunks, and even the popping sounds of bird beaks cracking seed hulls — clearly audible outdoors — are usually out of earshot from behind windowpanes.
Even so, it’s hard to beat gazing out a window from the warmth of our homes on a cold winter day sipping coffee or hot chocolate while watching the birds outside.
Though many of us feed wild birds throughout the year, many of you opt out of year-around feeding in exchange for only attracting birds during the long and cold Minnesota winters. And that’s OK, too. Anytime is a good time to feed birds.
Indeed, feeding birds is not only a great hobby; it quickly becomes a genuine passion for many people.
Backyard bird feeding is a fabulous way to learn about nature. Over the years I discovered that my children and young nieces and nephews became students of all that is wild because, in large part, of observing birds and other wildlife gorging themselves on birdseed, suet, sweetened water, jelly, orange slices, and other offerings I’ve placed outside my home such as hanging in trees the bones from deer that I’ve harvested each fall.
Feeding birds gives people marvelous opportunities to more than just watching them. Birds perched on feeders provide unlimited subjects for photography, art and study. Observing birds is an experience that soothes and warms the soul on the coldest of days.
Truly, the power of wildlife and the pleasure realized from viewing nature’s creatures has not gone unnoticed by administrators of retirement homes and hospitals as well as school teachers’ and their classrooms and even places of employment. Feeding and watching birds is an activity anyone can benefit from.
As an industry, bird feeding is big business. And it’s local, too. One of the most popular and common birdseeds sold is the black oil sunflower seed, much of which is grown by Red River valley farmers.
Nationally, bird lovers spend more than $2 billion a year on bird feeding expenditures, not including several hundred million dollars per year shelled out for bird feeders and nesting boxes.
In a 1991 study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, it was estimated that over 75,000,000 pounds of wild birdseed was sold that year to Minnesota bird feeding enthusiasts. The figure was conservative to say the least, because it did not include unmixed sunflower seeds or bags of seed weighing less than ten pounds.
Birdseed companies, store chains, and mom and pop shops catering exclusively to bird lovers’ demands for bird food and accessories help to pump tens of millions of dollars each year into Minnesota’s economy.
Obviously all of this fuss is intended to attract our fine-feathered friends to our backyards and windows. And in spite of Minnesota’s snowy months, species of birds and other wildlife that frequent the feeders are normally not in short supply.
Downy and hairy woodpeckers are common woodpeckers that visit seed and suet feeders alike.
Flocks of common redpolls and pine siskins, pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks, and red crossbills and white-winged crossbills might be locally abundant in some parts, while ever-present black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches are familiar and reliable visitors to most feeders.
Other wintertime birds that may appear in your backyard include the gray jay, pileated woodpecker, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, black-billed magpie, blue jay, purple finch, house finch, and sometimes even the American goldfinch.
And depending on your home’s location, squirrels such as gray, fox, red, and flying squirrels will more than likely find your offerings as well. Other critters that are often drawn to bird feeding stations are birds of prey such as barred owls, great horned owls, and saw-whet owls, in addition to mammalian predators like weasels, fishers, and pine martens.
Feeding birds is, after all, for the birds. But it’s for us, too. From toddlers to elders, any and all can derive untold hours of contentment by simply tossing a few seeds outside, sitting back, and watching the show as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
For more bird feeding tips, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/birdfeeding/winter/index.html.