February is National Bird Feeding Month, and naturally
Mass Audubon is a place I look to for ideas and activities to help celebrate
our feathered friends, from bird-feeder workshops to the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
Mass Audubon formerly ran a program called Focus on
Feeders, but this year it phased that independent project out and asked members
to participant instead in Cornell’s Great
Backyard Bird Count, now in its 18th year. The annual
four-day event engages bird watchers around the country in counting birds
to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.
This year it will be held February 13 to 16.
Participants are asked to count birds and report their sightings online. Anyone can take part
in the count, from beginning bird watchers to experts. Last year, according to
the organization, participants turned in more than 144,000 online checklists,
creating the world’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever
Whether or not you and your kids participate in the
bird count, a great backyard project is to build a feeder and see which birds
come to visit. The North
River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, Mass., is hosting a family workshop
on February 7. During the hands-on activity, you’ll construct a hanging feeder
that can be used all year, as well as a special feeder used to attract orioles
returning in the spring. Check with Mass Audubon for other events like this
If you want to get your kids excited about birds in
a really easy (and fast) way, all you need is a pine cone and some peanut
butter. Simply spread the peanut butter on the cone and hang it up in your
yard. Once the kids see its popularity, they might be ready for more ambitious
projects. Keeping a log of birds’ visits or sketching the birds is another fun
winters’ day project.
Tips from Mass Audubon
Up, Up and
Birds are vulnerable to predators such as cats and
hawks, and as a result, they seek feeders that offer the protection of nearby
trees or shrubs. Squirrels seem to have an uncanny ability to thwart all
attempts to exclude them from feeders. When placing a feeder, keep in mind that
squirrels can jump 6 feet up in the air and launch themselves, from a tree or
building, to a feeder 10 feet away. Feeders placed 12 to 15 feet from trees
and shrubs should provide shelter for the birds but discourage squirrels from
leaping onto the feeder.
What’s on the Menu?
birds prefer different types of seed, but black oil sunflower seeds appear to
be the favorite of the most bird species. It is the preferred seed for the
black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white and red-breasted nuthatches,
northern cardinal, evening and rose-breasted grosbeaks, and house finch and is
probably the second choice for blue jays. Niger (thistle) seed, placed in
feeders designed to hold this small seed, attracts American goldfinches, house
finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.
Just a Helping Hand
If you’re worried that you’ll be a bird’s only source of
food, don’t. Most birds depend on our handouts for only about 25 percent of
their food. Feeder offerings only supplement their natural foods. When a food
supply disappears in one location, they will move on and look for other
Photograph by Marc Chalufour
Labels: Audubon, bird watching, birding, birds, citizen science, Kim Foley MacKinnon