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January Joy by Myrna Pearman

January 12, 2023 Written by Audra Cooper

January Joy

By Myrna Pearlman

January is a difficult time of year for many people. The bustle of the holiday season has come and gone, the dark and cold of winter still envelopes us, and the return to everyday realities can be challenging.

One of the best ways to cure the January blues is to enjoy nature!  While reading about nature or watching nature documentaries can boost our spirits, getting outside and being immersed in nature is the healthiest option, especially at this time of year. Even short walks around local neighbourhoods and through local parks can refresh and invigorate.

Connecting children to nature is especially important. Many studies confirm that direct exposure to nature is essential to a child’s healthy physical and emotional development. The benefits of taking children outside and letting them creatively play cannot be overstated.

When it is too cold or dark for children to go outside to play, try to reduce screen time by encouraging children to read nature-based books and/or engage in nature-related crafts. A quick online search will yield a plethora of creative, inexpensive and engaging nature-focused craft activities.

One of the most enjoyable and transformative way to enjoy nature—for adults and children alike—is to bring nature into our own yards and gardens by setting out bird feeding stations.  Backyard bird feeding, which is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people across North America, has become even more enthusiastically embraced over the past couple of years as people have been spending more time at home.

Backyard bird feeding stations benefit our avian neighbours by supplying them with a steady supply of food. But having the birds around benefits us too! Birds, which are fascinating to watch, provide their human observers with a strong connection to the natural world.  Watching feeder birds is a great way to introduce children to nature and can kindle in them a sense of wonder and joy.

Setting up a bird feeder is simple, easy and inexpensive. All that is needed is a sturdy feeder and, to start with, a small bag of medium sunflower chips. Once the birds start coming, this basic set up can be complemented with additional feeding stations and offerings, including black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, quality seed blends and suet. Many pleasant hours of nature watching will be the reward for starting this hobby!

Christmas Bird Count

December 8, 2022 Written by Audra Cooper

 

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The Feeder Birds of Christmas 

As we head into the holiday season, bird watchers will be marking their calendars with an additional yuletide activity – the 127th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Interestingly, the CBC—now the longest-running and most important bird census in the world—didn’t start out as a wildlife-friendly activity. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt." They would choose sides and go afield with their guns, killing everything in sight. The group that slaughtered the most wildlife (all animals were fair game) was declared the winner.

In 1900, ornithologist and Audubon Society officer, Frank M. Chapman, proposed an alternative to this barbaric holiday tradition—a "Christmas Bird Census" that would count, not kill, birds. The inaugural count, held on Christmas Day, had 27 participants recording 90 species across North America. Today, tens of thousands of volunteers around the globe take part in this annual event. Counts will take place between December 14, 2022 and January 5, 2023. Check out Birds Canada for a complete list of counts and count dates across the province. We encourage all backyard bird feeding enthusiasts to participate. Remember, feeder watching is a great way to connect children and grandchildren to nature!

Myrna Pearman 

 

 

November is for the (Song) Birds By Myrna Pearman

November 8, 2022 Written by Audra Cooper

As winter weather starts to descend upon us this month, backyard bird feeding enthusiasts focus their attention on our avian neighbours. The birds of summer have long migrated south, and those resident species that live year-round in our northern climates can benefit from the provision of habitat (space within which creatures can find food, water and shelter).

Having access to high-calorie birdseed is critically important to help them survive our harsh prairie winters, and Mother Nature’s Songbird Mix is an excellent mixture to offer them during the dark cold winter months. This carefully crafted blend contains a wide variety of seeds that will appeal to all our winter feeder birds.

Songbird Mix has a 50% base of sunflower seeds, both black oil and striped. Sunflower seeds are the most popular of all feeder fare and will be eagerly devoured by a wide variety of species ranging from the larger jays and grosbeaks to the mid-sized woodpeckers and finches and to the smaller chickadees and nuthatches.

The sunflowers in this blend are complemented by other high-quality seeds: the canola and canary grass will be eaten by finches (including redpolls); the millet will be dined on by many sparrow species as well as doves, blackbirds and finches; and the cracked corn will be relished by grouse and jays as well as some sparrow, finch and blackbird species.

Songbird mix can be served from different styles of feeders. During the spring and fall, when native sparrows and blackbirds are migrating through, small quantities can be spread on the ground. But to reduce waste and protect the seeds from getting wet or snowed on, it is advisable to dispense this blend from tube feeders, hopper feeders and/or covered tray feeders. If possible, place the feeders in a sunny, sheltered location away from harsh prevailing winds.

Complement this excellent mix with some suet, which can be served raw (directly from the butcher), melted and mixed with other ingredients, or in the form of commercial suet cakes. Suet cakes consist of suet blended with small seeds and other ingredients. Choose a brand that has a high protein content. These suet cakes, which fit into small wire dispensers, make offering suet easy and mess-free.

Offering a water source will also help both feeder and non-feeder bird species, especially during the late fall before there is sufficient snowfall. A small pan or water will suffice, or a commercial heated bird bath will keep the water open even during cold temperatures.

How Can We Help Our Feathered Friends?

By Myrna Pearman, Naturalist & Backyard Bird Feeding Expert

 Setting out backyard bird feeding stations is one way that we can help birds in winter. Bringing birds into our yards and gardens can also liven up our cold prairie winters.

 There are two main types of bird food that can be offered in the winter: seeds (including nuts) and suet.

Seeds: Although there are different types of bird seed on the market, the most popular are sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds come in two varieties, black oil and striped, and can be served shelled or unshelled. Although the shelled seeds (often called chips) are more expensive, they are becoming increasingly popular because they leave less waste and the smaller species (e.g., redpolls and siskins) prefer them.

Winter birds will also readily dine on corn (e.g., jays, sparrows and grouse) and nyger seed (e.g., finches). Other seeds include canary grass seed, canola, millet, safflower and vegetable and fruit seeds.  The seeds to avoid are the cheap mixes that contain cereal grains, red milo or other filler seeds, none of which are favored by northern birds.

Nuts: Many birds (e.g, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches) will eat nuts, with shelled and unshelled peanuts being the most popular. Other nuts, including walnuts, cashews, pecans etc. can also be served. 

Seeds and nuts can be dispensed in a variety of ways, from simply scattering on the ground to being served from tray, hopper and tube feeders. Feeder designs continue to improve, and a wide variety of styles are available at garden, farm and hardware stores. 

Suet: Suet (the fat found around the hearts of cattle and sheep) can be served raw or rendered and mixed with seeds, cornmeal and other ingredients, and is relished by most insect-eating birds (e.g., woodpeckers, kinglets, chickadees and nuthatches). Lard (pig fat) can also be used instead of pure suet. Retailers that carry bird seed also sell packaged suet cakes that can be slipped into special plastic-coated cages, a combination that minimizes fuss and mess.

Water

While all birds require water, even in the winter, resident (year-round) species are adapted to obtaining moisture by eating snow. However, since birds will avail themselves of open water if it is available, a heated bird bath is an easy way to provide water for the birds all winter long. There are many styles of heated bird baths on the market.

Whether you live in the country or in an urban condominium complex, sharing your outdoor living space with the birds is guaranteed to bring hours of entertainment, education and enjoyment.

Expert Advice: Create the Habitat & They Will Come

June 8, 2022 Written by Audra Cooper

By Myrna Pearman

Create the Habitat and They Will Come

People who enjoy feeding backyard birds often have wider interests in nature and are engaged in a range of outdoor activities, from gardening and hiking to birding and wildlife photography. In many cases, backyard birds have sparked an interest in these other pursuits.  

Backyard bird feeding enthusiasts are also cognizant that feeding birds is just one of the many ways individual landowners can support biodiversity and encourage wildlife to share our yards and gardens. The most effective—and rewarding—way to attract birds (and other wildlife!) is to create suitable habitats.

Creating habitat entails providing space within which birds can find the necessities of life, namely foodwater , and shelter. While the food, water, and shelter components of habitat are easily described, the concept of space is less often considered. Most folks view space in the two-dimension—the square footage of a yard, balcony, water feature etc. But habitat is three-dimensional, with creatures occupying space from as high in the sky as birds migrate to as deep in the soil as microbial activity takes place.  When considered thus, substantial volumes of habitat can be offered, even in relatively small backyards.

Creating habitat can be as basic as eschewing cosmetic pesticides, then planting trees/shrubs, and setting out nestboxes, feeding stations and/or bird baths. A more ambitious and multifaceted undertaking would be to replace expanses of lawn with appropriate plantings of wildlife-attracting trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and ground covers, allow sections of your yard to support underbrush, and to offer additional water features and structural attractants (rockpiles, brush piles, etc.).

Properties that are located adjacent to wetlands, parks or other natural areas will more quickly attract a greater diversity of wildlife species than those located in new subdivisions. But be patient—it doesn’t take long for trees and shrubs to grow, and if you and your neighbours get together to create a larger and more complex tapestry of habitat, you will all soon have yards that are alive with bird song and activity.

Before you race off to start creating your bird-friendly yard, be sure to take the time to carefully plan, and break down your project into manageable chunks so that you can see the fruits of your labour without being overwhelmed. 

If you are keen on transforming some of your yard into lush and vibrant habitat, there are many online resources available that can help.

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