The Backyard Bird Lover's Ultimate How-to Guide: More than 200 Easy Ideas and Projects for Attracting and Feeding Your Favorite Birds

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9781605295190: The Backyard Bird Lover's Ultimate How-to Guide: More than 200 Easy Ideas and Projects for Attracting and Feeding Your Favorite Birds
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The Backyard Bird Lover's Ultimate How-to Guide by Sally Roth is a comprehensive A-to-Z handbook for the foods and feeders, plants and projects that will guarantee a bird-friendly backyard

One of the joys of spending time in the backyard is observing the birds. This acorns-to-wrens guide helps readers create a backyard that's right for them and right for their local birds.

The book targets all skill levels, offering new birders plenty of basics while intriguing longtime birdwatchers with new ideas. Here readers will learn:
· which birdhouses are a smart buy and which ones to leave on the shelf
· how to choose a birdseed mix to attract colorful songbirds—rather than pesky crows
· why easy homemade suet blocks are irresistable to hungry birds in every season
· how to offer shelter to species dealing with disappearing natural habitats

Along with the ins and outs of feeding, behavior, nesting, and gardening advice, each of the 200-plus entries is sprinkled with super-simple step-by-step projects, bird treat recipes, and planting ideas, along with plenty of fascinating bird lore and Roth's own observations on bird behavior.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

SALLY ROTH is author of many books on gardening and birding. A lifelong gardener, naturalist, and sought-after public speaker, she lives in New Harmony, IN.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Whole New World

The big, wide world starts right in our own backyard.

Every time I buy a bag of seeds or a few blocks of suet for my backyard birds at the store, it seems someone will remark on it.

"Getting a lot of goldfinches?" the fellow in front of me asked the other day, as I slid a sack of niger onto the checkout counter.

"Just starting," I noted. "But I want to be ready when they come in."

"So far, mine are more interested in the cosmos flowers than the feeders," he laughed.

As we chatted about our birds, several people nearby and the checker herself joined in. What's the best food? What can I do about wasps at my hummingbird feeder? Do you think it's too late to plant zinnias for the finches?

Whether you've been feeding birds for a while or you're just getting started, it's easy to tell that the business is booming. New feeders, new foods, a whole aisle in the discount stores, and even entire shops dedicated to wild birds are all signs that we're a force to be reckoned with.

Unbelievable as it seems, one out of every four adult Americans watches birds in his or her backyard.

We number a grand total of 46 million, or one out of seven men, women, and children all across the country, according to 2009's The US State of the Birds, the first comprehensive report of US bird populations, coordinated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of many bird conservancy groups. No wonder we keep running into fellow bird lovers everywhere we go! Whether it's in my little hometown of New Harmony, Indiana, or the Boston metropolis, there are an awful lot of us feeding birds.

And, boy oh boy, do we spend the bucks: hundreds of millions of dollars on our seed, feeders, birdhouses, and other supplies, every year.

A force to be reckoned with? You better believe it.

And just in the nick of time.

All across the country, the woods right around us and in wild places, too, are becoming mighty bare of birds. Scores of species are in decline--wood thrushes, blue-winged warblers, chestnut-backed chickadees, and many others are dropping in such numbers that they've left a noticeable gap. May mornings just don't sound like they used to, and neither do the dusky evenings, when thrushes on every side once sang the day to sleep.

The grasslands aren't as full of lark song and bobwhite whistles as they once were, either. Field sparrows no longer fill our meadows of goldenrod and wild asters with their sweet twittering. And along creeks and around ponds, willow warblers and flycatchers are harder to find.

Our deserts, sagebrush, and other dry lands are even worse hit, with canyon wrens no longer echoing off every rock, and nearly three-quarters of species showing significant declines.

On the other hand, our feeders are booming. Though we're noticing some gaps- -where are the white-crowned sparrows this year?--most of us are hosting more birds than ever before. We're even seeing some new kinds of birds come to visit our feeders for the very first time.

What's happening?

The world is changing. And birds are feeling the effects, big-time.

Success Story: Eastern Bluebird

Problems: Lack of nest sites; food shortages

Solutions: Birdhouses; feeders

Bluebirds are so beloved--and so noticeable--that they quickly got attention when their numbers dropped dramatically after a few bad winters in the South in the 1950s and a couple of big blizzards in the mid-1960s.

An unusually severe late-winter storm takes its toll on bluebirds because they're very early nesters, and insects are their food of choice. The cold itself can kill the birds outright, and the lack of food can starve the adults or nestlings.

Bluebirds usually rebound after a bad year, but numbers kept dropping because another factor was at play: habitat destruction. The birds nested in cavities in dead wood, and dead wood was fast becoming an endangered species itself.

Old apple trees, one of the birds' favorite nesting sites, were being tidied up, decaying limbs removed. Wooden fence posts were being torn out and replaced by metal. And introduced starlings and house sparrows, who also nest in cavities, were competing for the ever-scarcer homesites.

Simple solution: birdhouses, and lots of them.

Lawrence Zeleny started the North American Bluebird Society (www.nabluebirdsociety.org) in 1978 and began an energetic educational effort to spread the word about bluebird trails. He and other friends of the bluebird campaigned tirelessly to increase nest sites by building "bluebird trails." The trails of nest boxes have proved a big success. In 1978, bluebirds were so few and far between that many people had never seen one. By 1998, just 20 years later, they were being seen frequently wherever the habitat suited them.

Today, these lovely birds are common visitors to our own backyards if we're lucky enough to live near bluebird country. Whether your bluebirds are residents or only passing through, you can help them by providing the soft foods they like best: mealworms, peanut butter dough, and other bluebird feasts.

Tipping the Balance

Every day, an incredible balancing act is going on all around us. Jiggle the balance, and countless other plants and animals have to readjust because every living thing on Earth is connected to everything else.

Change is natural. Nature is always shifting, as plants and animals grab their share of space and resources. It's been going on for ages on our planet, in countless big and small ways.

Nature's been doing a great job of balancing things out. But as our own impact on Earth has become bigger and bigger, the changes have piled up. Too much change too fast causes that balance to swing in ways that can swamp whatever's in its path.

What's tipped the balance? Three factors add up to a great big loss of birds:

. Habitat destruction . Pesticides and pollution . Climate change

And now, many birds have started a slide that could be disastrous.

The good news? We can help Mother Nature tip the scale back the other way. Remember, there are 46 million of us bird-watchers.

Our humble backyards can save the birds.

Millions of Safe Havens

What a difference 46 million backyard bird sanctuaries would make to our friends!

We've already got a good start, with our feeders brimming with seeds and our birdbaths brimming with water for a refreshing drink. Many of us have added berry bushes for songbirds, nectar flowers for hummingbirds, birdhouses for wrens and chickadees, and other niceties that make our yards more welcoming.

Let's give ourselves a big pat on the back: Nearly all of our most familiar friends, the birds we see every day at our feeders or in our backyards, are thriving.

Birds of cities and towns, which are long accustomed to living right alongside us year-round or traveling only a short distance in winter, are doing fine, thank you.

Robins, blue jays, house finches, American goldfinches, black-capped and Carolina chickadees, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, and many others are all A-okay.

Why? Three big reasons:

1. Our backyards, city parks, and other "civilized" places have become part of the birds' natural habitat. Our feeders and plants, as well as the trees along our streets, have given them a helping hand or a place to call home, and they've made the most of it. 2. These birds are generalists, not narrowly focused specialists. They eat different kinds of foods or use a variety of plants and habitats as nest sites and can switch to other resources when they need to. If it's a bad year for acorns, they'll turn to other foods to take up the slack-- including our sunflower seeds. 3. And--important factor!--these familiar birds don't migrate long distances or out of the country. So they don't face the rigors of an extended journey, with the possibility of scarce resources along the way or at the other end.

We must be doing the right things for these birds because they're holding their own, even with all the changes in the big wide world. Let's keep it up. And let's add even more bird appeal to our yards to make sure they continue to thrive.

As for the 251 bird species that are in decline or otherwise at risk (as of the March 2009, US State of the Birds report; let's hope that number hasn't gone up)--more than a third of the 654 native species in the continental United States, plus others in Hawaii--it's time to figure out how to give them the helping hand they desperately need.

These are the birds that visit our backyards only part of the time, not year-round. Many of them nest in our forests, grasslands, deserts, and other wild places, not in our backyards--not yet, anyhow. And many of them migrate to Central and South America or the islands offshore. Sometimes these two categories overlap, which spells double trouble, since these birds face challenges in both their summer and winter homes as well as while making the journey between them.

The numbers are sobering. The populations of many of these birds have declined by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years, and some by as much as 80 to 90 percent. No wonder our May mornings aren't as alive with birdsong as they used to be.

Some days I feel like Lewis and Clark must've felt, looking at the snowcapped Rockies piercing the sky and wondering, "How the heck do we ever get over this?"

Then I take heart. Because every incredible journey begins with a single small step, and those steps add up.

One backyard at a time, we can help make up for the staggering loss of wild habitat. And by joining our voices and our dollars to conservation groups, we can have big effects on those wild places, too.

Success Story: Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Problem: Lack of suitable nest sites and habitat

Solution: Clearing forests to increase habitat

The wood warbler family includes many species that are at risk, but this pretty little bird is bucking the downward trend. The chestnut-sided warbler migrates to the tropics in winter, so it faces the same challenges there as other species do. The big difference? The very same destruction and fragmentation of forests that threaten other species actually benefit this one: It makes its home in "early succession" areas, the places where vegetation is growing back after land is cleared by logging, building, or farming. This warbler was a rare bird back in John James Audubon's day, when vast sweeps of forest covered the land. But today, it's among the most abundant breeding wood warbler species in its nesting areas in North America--around the Great Lakes, throughout the Northeast and New England, and down through the Appalachians. Because its population is doing well, you'll often see it during migration, too, in other areas. Listen for its happy call: "Pleased, pleased, pleased-to-meetcha," says this bird that has benefited from human activities.

We already have some great success stories to point to. The bald eagle, osprey, and peregrine falcon have made amazing comebacks. Ducks and geese that were floundering are thriving again, thanks to the efforts of hunters and other conservationists. Pelicans, plovers, and other seabirds have made progress, too. Scientists know that conservation efforts work because the birds rebound.

There's no time to lose because hundreds of species of canaries-in-the-coal- mine are singing for their lives.

The first step? Looking at the big problems to see where we can make changes for the better.

A 40-Year Slide

There's no telling exactly when the downturn in our bird populations began. Large, comprehensive counts of wintering or nesting birds didn't kick into gear until the 1960s, when the annual Audubon Christmas Count of birds began to gain steam. Nesting bird inventories, another important part of "citizen science," were undertaken then, too.

By comparing those early figures with the data from recent counts, scientists have a good snapshot of the state of our American birds.

Before these comparative reports were done, all we had to go on were anecdotal accounts, the stories told by observant folks who remembered when birds were abundant. There were plenty of warnings even then.

I heard some of those warnings from my friend Jimmie, an old man who lived very simply in a tiny stone house along a creek in Pennsylvania. Thirty years ago, we spent a lot of time roaming the woods and fields together. He'd often remark on the growing scarcity of birds, but I took his comments with a grain of salt.

Birds at a Glance

Number of bird species in the continental United States, including introduced species: about 700

Number of native bird species in the continental United States: 654

Number of bird species in North America in winter: 305

Number of bird species moving their range northward by an average of 35 miles: 183

Number of bird species in need of immediate conservation help: 176*

Percentage of forest birds significantly declining in population: 33

Percentage of grassland bird species significantly declining in population: 55

Percentage of desert, sagebrush, and other arid land bird species significantly declining in population: 75

Source: The US State of the Birds, 2009

*Per the 2007 Audubon WatchList, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy

Sometimes we'd hear the lovely plaintive song of a veery in the dim woods, or find ourselves in the middle of a wave of migrating wood warblers, or stumble upon a woodcock that rocketed up from under our feet in a heart- stopping rush.

Birds on the Brink

I can hardly believe the list of American birds in decline. I wouldn't have been surprised by seeing rare birds on the list, the ones I encounter only once in a great while. But, hey, these guys are my friends!

Bird species that face a shrinking home on both ends of their long migration journey--in North America and in Central or South America--are in the deepest trouble.

But even some of the birds that live in North America year-round are faltering, like the northern bobwhite, a bird whose call rang out from every field when I was a kid in Pennsylvania. Today, it's disappeared entirely from some areas and declined by 75 percent in the rest.

Many of the 251 species that are dropping fast are birds that are so familiar, it's hard to imagine our world without them.

No meadowlarks to whistle their poignant songs from a fence post? No eastern towhees to scratch up a storm in dead leaves, making me wonder if there's a bear over there? No wood pewees to imitate (pee-oh-wee, pee-oh)?

No wide-eyed field sparrows? No tree sparrows with their snazzy black stickpins to liven up our winter feeders? No chestnut-backed chickadees cracking sunflower seeds in the Northwest? No varied thrushes calling in a dim hemlock forest? No rufous hummingbirds?

Unthinkable. We've got to do something, and we can. By nurturing birds in our backyards, we can help them adapt to changing times. We can help turn the trend around.

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