Feeding birds is good for them, your inner child too | Island Wildlife | Dec. 3

I admit it; I have a bird feeder. In fact, I have two. They’re hanging on the edge of the deck right outside my kitchen windows. I tell myself that I hang the feeders there so I can easily take them down, fill them up, clean them, etc.

But really, deep inside, I know the truth – I hang them there so that I can watch the birdies. It’s a harmless form of voyeurism that is remarkably fulfilling.

And yes, I’ve found myself standing next to the feeders hoping that a bird might land on my shoulder. This summer during a barbecue a friend was standing close to the feeders, and, voila, it happened – a chickadee flew up and perched right on his balding head. Those of us standing nearby laughed and made jokes about bird poop. But in my heart, I felt a keen envy.

I guess there’s still a little kid in me, a bright-eyed little boy who is thrilled by the touch of nature, by the brush of the wild. At this time of year I encourage all of us to give into that inner child. Our culture emphasizes caring for the needy during the holiday season.

By broadening your definition of “the needy” to include the birds outside your doors, you’ll help those birds survive a difficult winter while enriching your own life.

Put up a bird feeder or two. The most sure-fire choice is putting out a feeder with black-oil sunflower seed. You can buy this seed and feeders at local hardware, gardening, and pet stores. For the fullest selection of bird-feeding gear try The Wild Bird in Poulsbo or Wild Birds Unlimited in Gig Harbor.

Winter is a difficult time for birds because they burn more calories to survive the cold at the same time that many of their natural food sources are gone. Tiny birds must eat a third to three-quarters of their weight each day.

Although their natural curiosity and mobility ensure that they have multiple food sources, during periods of extended cold, rain or snow, your feeder may be a lifesaving food source.

Feeding the birds is also a wonderful holiday tradition to start with your children. Try some of the following activities; you’ll have fun, help the birds, and enrich your child’s life.

Cookie-cutter feeders – Cut out fun shapes in stale (but not moldy) grain bread; attach string through the center of the bread; spread both sides with peanut butter; sprinkle with fresh wild bird seed; and hang from a tree.

Snowman bird feeder – Next time the snow falls, make a snowman; decorate it with corn-cob lips, suet ball eyes and buttons; sunflower centers on the end of branches for arms and legs; millet for hair; and sunflower centers for earmuffs.

Wildlife garland – With a needle and long piece of string, make a garland out of seeds, pods, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn (no butter), cranberries or cheerios; and drape the garlands along tree branches and fences.

Once you station these creations in your yard, you can sit inside your warm house, drinking cocoa and waiting for the birdies to discover them. Get out your binoculars, and encourage your children to figure out what foods the birds like best.

Of course, bird feeders involve some responsibility and must be cleaned regularly. You can learn more about how to feed birds and manage bird feeders, as well as read about many more holiday bird-feeding ideas, on the Wildlife Shelter’s website at www.westsoundwildlife.org/wildlife/wildlife.html.

I need to add a couple caveats. Birds are wild animals. Do not ever try to pet, catch or raise a wild bird. Also, the shelter only recommends feeding birds.

Please do not feed raccoons and other mammals that have a propensity to become dependent on human foods. It is dangerous for those animals, and it can cause them to become nuisances.

When it comes to the birds, though, I hope you’ll take my advice and show them some charity during this holiday season and into the future.

If you’re lucky, a curious bird might just land on your head. You might be too embarrassed to tell your friends about it, but your inner child will giggle with glee.

Kol Medina is executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

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