The enjoyment I get from having the wild birds as winter companions has gotten me through many a tough winter. When the cold and gray lasts day after day, you can always watch the birds at play.
If you are someone who simply fills the feeders every day and watches at the window from time to time, then you and your family may want to get more personally acquainted with the birds. Allowing the wild birds to trust you enough to take seed out of your hand is another experience altogether. Not only do you see and hear them close to you; you might feel what it's like to have a 2-ounce bird land on your finger. Sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and put your hands, palms up, on your knees. Now imagine you hear the fast flutter of little wings around your head, and feel the touch of tiny, gentle feet on your skin.
If that wasn't up close and personal enough, try putting a couple of sunflower seeds between your lips so the chickadees can see them, and put your hand up under your chin with your index finger pointing straight out (as a perch). Now imagine a tiny Black-capped chickadee landing on your finger to look you straight in the eye, pluck the sunflower seed out of your lips, and fly away. You would be not only face to face with a wild bird, but literally eye to eye. If that doesn't put a smile on your face, I don't know what will.
Feeding at close range will give you a whole new level of appreciation for the wild birds. It's easy to do, and all it takes is a little time and patience.
There are other fun and more interesting ways of watching the birds who come to your feeders. Once in a while, I like to bring all the birds together in one place. For example, there is a pile of blocked up firewood just out my back door—a ready-made bird feeder, I thought. I positioned about 20 of those chunks of firewood so I had a flat surface to place a little seed. The mini bird feeders were spaced all over the woodpile. It was quite a sight to see around a hundred different colored birds covering the woodpile: 20 Cardinals, 20 jays, 30 Chickadees, 25 Juncos, 10 Goldfinches, 6 Nuthatches, 5 Downy woodpeckers, 2 Red-bellied woodpeckers, and 4 Mourning doves, all together in an area only 8 feet wide. If only we people could all get along so well. It makes me realize what cooperation really means.
Last Monday, as I was walking into the Organic Valley headquarters building, I was greeted by the bugle-like call of a single Sandhill crane passing high overhead. He was the first of many who will return to the Kickapoo Valley in the next couple of weeks. Thanks goes out to Melanie, a reader in Pennsylvania, who sent me a nice reminder about a fun game that she and her kids play, called "That's a sign of Spring." This is a great way to learn the names of birds, animals, plants and insects, and the sounds, colors, and smells associated with them. Another very good suggestion is to keep a journal and a pencil on the counter for entries. Whoever notices a sign of Spring, may enter their findings, in their own words. Then date it and initial it—you may even sketch a small drawing if you feel inspired. It's fun to go back and read what has been written down each year. After a couple of years, you have a better understanding of how Spring unfolds around us.
I made a few entries in my own journal today (March 14). These first signs of Spring include the fancy white catkins of the Pussy willows, and the muddy tracks of a raccoon at the edge of the driveway. A single Sandhill crane stands on a snowbank along the riverbank. The snow is melting quickly now, and each day there is more bare ground exposed on the south-facing slopes. I'm really looking forward to seeing something besides white everywhere I look, and Nature's trail will once again be green.
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