The Hummers are Coming!

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The bee balm (Monarda) and mint hyssop (Agastache) won’t bloom until mid-summer, and the flowers on my California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) appear even later. Yet, despite the lack of these hummingbird favorites, the birds are on the move, heading north to nest. While I like to think that I’m aiding their survival, I know they will do fine without me. Still, I’m hustling to fill and hang my feeders. It isn’t that the birds need me—I need them!

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Choosing a Birdfeeder

Bird feeders and houses @Lowe's-CS_2008aug02_LAH_5113-1There are about a zillion bird feeders on the market. They come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. They’re made from anything from plastic to wood to gleaming copper. Some hang from supports or tree branches, others perch on posts, attach to deck railings, or are anchored at ground level. Some feeders are designed to attract squirrels and others claim to exclude them. There are feeders to match every kind of seed, from tiny nyjer to peanuts in the shell, plus specialized feeders for corn cobs, suet, meal worms, jelly, fruit halves, and sugar water. With so many to choose from, how can one possibly decide which is the perfect feeder to buy? Continue reading “Choosing a Birdfeeder”

But Where Are the Birds?

Steller's Jay_BlkForest_20100424_LAH_3670The birdfeeder had been up for weeks, but no birds came to dine. My friend was understandably frustrated. “Why won’t the birds come to my yard?” she asked. “I spent all this money on a feeder and birdseed, but they don’t seem to care!”

I thought about all the birds flocking around my assortment of feeders, and tried to see the differences. What was she doing—or not doing—that I was doing differently? We both lived in suburbia, amid rows of houses with lawns and trees and shrubs. In fact, we were only a few miles apart. So why did I have finches and doves and hummingbirds (and more), and she did not?

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Getting to the Root of the Matter

Phalenopsis orchid roots_DBG_LAH_6672We all know what roots are—they’re the part of the plant that’s usually underground. If we have a mental image, it’s probably a mass of wiggly, white strings poking their way through the soil. We should pay more attention to roots. After all, they’re an essential part of a plant (as well as the only part remaining after some hail storms!). Knowing a little about how roots work will make us more successful gardeners.

Before I get any further, I should point out that I’ll be talking about your average, every day root. Life is an amazing phenomena, so diverse that there are always exceptions. So let’s skip the orchids (left) and other epiphytes, and the mangroves and other plants with roots growing in water, and focus on our garden flowers, shrubs, and trees.

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A Visit from a Covey

Scaled Quail_ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_3016I have a new yard bird! Having only lived in this house since May, adding a new species to my yard list isn’t normally that big a deal. In fact, the previous entry (last week) was Eurasian Collared-dove. Big whoopee. But this new species got me so excited I went running around the house, texting all my birding friends. (Can you tell I haven’t been out birding in far too long?)

Yes, I glanced out at the feeder late one afternoon and spotted a small covey of Scaled Quail! In my yard! They were happily pecking through the shredded bark mulch looking for millet seeds that had fallen from the feeder overhead.

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Beset By Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbirds_LAH_8265_filteredWe had a wonderful white Christmas, and the landscape is blanketed in a couple of inches of snow. But with highs below freezing and a predicted low of 10°F tonight, I was naturally concerned about the birds. Early in the morning I bundled up and ventured out to fill my feeders. I added a block of suet to my suet cage, topped off the mesh nyjer feeder, and carried a huge scoop of black oil sunflower seeds to my platform feeder. I assumed the abundant juncos, finches, nuthatches, and chickadees would keep the snow cleared enough to feed. And, for a while, they did.

Not a redpoll.
Not Common Redpolls.

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Watch Birds, Do Science

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Are you interested in birds? Do you enjoy counting them, listing them, or watching them cavort around your backyard birdfeeder? Would you like that interest to benefit more than your natural curiosity and enjoyment?

There are lots of ways that you, as a birder, can make a significant contribution to science. You don’t need to be an expert birder. It doesn’t matter how old—or young—you are. You don’t need to don a white lab coat or, in some cases, even leave the house. In fact, you can do science in your bathrobe!

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