Aldo Leopold is considered by many as the father of wildlife conservation. The above quote starts his best-known book, “A Sand County Almanac.” A garden probably can’t be considered wild, but having birds sing while flitting around your flowers surely brings a sense of wonder and laughter that is sorely missing in our modern, hectic lives.
I have several volunteer sunflowers in the back yard this year, which has brought in many birds to feast on the seed heads. The other day I heard a commotion going on between a male lesser goldfinch and what I thought was his mate. This sparked my curiosity because I thought it was too late in the season for them to be thinking of, ahem, family matters. However, after inching closer and zooming in on the activity, I decided that the source of noise was a juvenile demanding “Feed me, Dad!” This high-pitched demand went on for well over an hour, with an occasional sunflower seed offered to shut up the kid. I’m thinking many of you can relate to this situation, but with the variation of needing the car keys or more allowance.
Now, I’m a rank amateur when it comes to birds. The little buggers don’t politely stand still for easy identification, unlike my wonderfully approachable plants. Just to be sure I wasn’t projecting human traits onto my feathered visitors, I reached out and got confirmation from Tim Crisler.
While I had the birding guru’s ear, I asked if he had any tips to pass along to readers. Crisler said to focus on the bird’s beak when trying to ID them, as the bill will tell you the main type of food source. Finches have stout beaks to break open seeds like the sunflowers in my yard, whereas warblers have thinner beaks for eating small insects. In the fall, migrating birds become opportunistic for any source of food to fuel their southward migration. Plants with seeds are visited by many species. Just a few of the plants listed by Rocky Mountain Audubon are coneflower, blue grama, rabbitbrush, pinon and ponderosa pine, beardtongue. Most of the plants discussed in previous articles will provide a buffet for hungry birds. He also said to place bird feeders in the open, away from bushes that could hide cats waiting to pounce on ground feeding birds. The Smithsonian and US Fish and Wildlife conducted an extensive study that concluded cats kill between 1.7 billion and 3.7 billion birds annually. A brush pile, obviously not near the feeder, is also helpful as a place for birds to take refuge.
Hummingbirds have a loyal following in the area, as recently discussed on the Purgatoire Valley Gardeners FB page. People were discussing how many times they had to refill the sugar water in their feeders. Crisler pointed out that humans don’t need to ingest red dye, and neither should hummers. Feeders have built-in red ports that will get their attention. If you want to add plants for these aerial acrobats, go for brightly colored tubular flowers. Salvia, beardtongue, hummingbird mint, and bee balm are great natives that fit the bill. I have a large bee balm patch in my back yard that provides me a lot of amusement due to their antics. To encourage the normal migration pattern of hummers, take down the feeders in late September/October and wash thoroughly before storing for the winter.
Rocky Mountain Audubon is a great source of information for beginning birders. If you want to experience them close up, Tim Crisler leads bird walks during migration peaks. He posts upcoming walks on the Trinidad Trails FB page, so that’s the best way to keep informed. For those of us who cannot live without wild things, seeing the flash of yellow wings or hearing the hoot of an owl touches something ancient and strangely soothing.