Feeding Hummers

broad-tailed-hummingbird_redrocksranch-hwy115-co_lah_3795Right on schedule, I hear the shrill whistle of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s wings. I’m writing this on May 1, and I just had my first tiny visitor of the season—on the exact same date as last year. I’d hung the feeder a few days ago, just in case, but not one bird stopped by until today. Amazing.

I’ve had a feeder outside my kitchen window every summer for about eight years now. One year, May 1 brought a heavy snowfall, with temperatures in the 20s and the wind whistling about the eaves. Surely the birds were snuggled somewhere safe and warm, I thought. Maybe most birds were, but at least one Broad-tail braved the storm to get to my feeder. If the hummingbirds are that eager (desperate?) to have a sugar water snack, the least I can do is offer what they expect.

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What Birds Want for Christmas

Dark-eyed Junco_LaVetaCO_20100320_LAH_0126Santa is making his list—what do birds want for Christmas? There are all sorts of recipes and projects that are meant for wild birds, but so often they’re actually meant to keep us birdwatchers entertained. No one asked the birds for their opinion.

If you really want to please the birds, how about…

A special treat to eat
One year I received a pine cone, cleverly rolled in suet and peanut butter, then in millet. The greasy mixture held (most of) the seed in place. It was adorned with a ribbon for hanging outside as a treat for the birds.

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By the Birds, For the Birds

blkforest-co_lah_8039This year, the birds planted themselves a garden.

I have half a dozen bird feeders scattered around our yard. Some hold millet, others contain suet, and a small feeder near the house is full of tiny, black nyjer seeds specifically for the goldfinches and Pine Siskins. But the most popular feeders are the ones full of black oil sunflower seeds.

House Finches, jays, nuthatches and chickadees, magpies, grosbeaks—all are attracted to the sunflower seeds. (So are squirrels, but they only get the spilled seeds on the ground.) While the finches sit contentedly on the feeder, munching away, the jays, nuthatches and chickadees tend to swoop in, grab a seed (or three, in the case of the jays), and hightail it to the relative safety of a convenient branch. There they open the shell and extract the seed before returning to the feeder for their next bite.

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Feeding Your Lawn

lawn_uplandin_20090615_lah_3607The summer is heading for fall, and it’s time to fertilize lawns. Go to any garden center and you’ll see piles of name brand lawn fertilizer, complete with directions on the back. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll have a healthy, green, weed-free lawn.

What these manufacturers don’t take into account is that different parts of the country have different soils. What may be excellent advice for Pennsylvania or Maine may not work for Colorado. Unlike much of the north and east, the Front Range loses more water to evaporation than it gains in rainfall. Combine that with the native rock from which our soils are derived, and we typically have soils that are alkaline, high in phosphorus and potassium, and low in organic matter and nitrogen.

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Christmas Dinner for the Birds

white-breasted-nuthatch_lavetaco_20100320_lah_0134As we gather to give gifts to one another, it’s only natural for birders to offer special treats for the birds. There are lots of options.

The best all-around feeder-filler is black oil sunflower seed. It’s high in energy and easy for small beaks to crack open. It’s enthusiastically consumed by chickadees, finches, nuthatches (such as this White-breasted Nuthatch at right), jays, grosbeaks, blackbirds, and many more species. Plus, these seeds are readily available at a reasonable price.

pine-siskin_blkforest_20100424_lah_3335More expensive, but especially attractive to Pine Siskins, is Nyjer seed. These tiny black seeds (also called thistle) are imported from Africa. You’ll need a special feeder with smaller holes, or a fabric “sock” sold for the purpose. One advantage is that the seed is treated to prevent sprouting—you’ll have no Nyjer weeds to pull in the spring.

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Don’t Feed the Animals!

rmnp-co_rmnp-co_lah_2124

The large sign was front and center, but no one seemed able to read it. The scenic turnout was crowded with retirees, young couples, and other tourists. Chipmunks scampered over the rocks, gorging on Fritos, sunflower seeds, and bits of doughnut. Clark’s Nutcrackers swooped down to nab the handouts before the rodents could grab them. There was even a bird perched hopefully on the sign. What do you mean, “Please, don’t feed the animals”?

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