Friday, November 21, 2008

Come Feed The Birds

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now over 51.3 million bird-watchers in the United States, and the number continues to grow. A birder is defined as an individual who "must have either taken a trip a mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home." The vast majority do so at home. And why not? It is so easy and inexpensive to do.

If you are not yet a birder, you should consider this marvelous educational hobby. You'll delight in watching these feathered creatures, and as your knowledge increases so will your sense of satisfaction. If you are a bird-watcher, introduce someone else to the pleasure.

When our children were very young, we positioned a bird bath and feeders in view of a special window so they could watch and learn. And when our parents aged, we provided them with bird feeders so they could watch from their favorite chairs. Feeding the birds is a kindness for birds and people alike.

To feed the widest variety of birds, different types of bird feeders and foods should be used.

Platform and tray feeders are flat structures with short walls attached to the rims to prevent seed from falling off. The feeders may be set on the ground, mounted on poles or hung. Some are designed to be mounted beneath other types of feeders to catch spilled seed.

These can present a wide variety of seeds. Filled with millet, platform and tray feeders attract blackbirds, cowbirds, doves, juncos, chipping sparrows, house sparrows, tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows.

If corn is used, they will attract doves, grackels, house sparrows, jays, juncos, starlings and white-throated sparrows. If set on or near the ground, they will also attract bobwhite quail and ring-necked pheasants.

If peanuts are used, platform and tray feeders will attract cardinals, chickadees, doves, grackles, house finches, jays, juncos, sparrows, starlings and titmice.

Hopper feeders are like boxes with side panels usually of glass or acrylic. The panels are positioned with narrow openings at the base so that small amounts of seed can empty into a feed trough or tray. Of course, there are different sizes available for dispensing small seeds or peanuts.

Metal tube feeders are shaped like round metal cages. Some have perforated sides while others have wire mesh tubes, allowing different sizes of seed to be used. The smallest mesh is appropriate for dispensing Nyjer thistle seed. Those with larger perforations may dispense peanuts. The mesh or perforations allow birds to cling to the tube and eat from the sides. Trays may be attached to catch spilled seed.

The more common tube feeders have solid tubes, often of acrylic, with ports at the base for dispensing seed. Perches for the birds to mount upon are often attached. Trays may also be attached to these to save dropped seed.

Black oil sunflower seeds work very well in tube feeders, and there is very little waste. These attract chickadees, goldfinches, redpolls, nuthatches, pine siskins, titmice and woodpeckers. Add a tray to the bottom of the feeder and you'll also attract cardinals, crossbills, jays, purple finches and sparrows.

A tube feeder and tray with peanuts will attract cardinals, chickadees, doves, grackles, house finches and sparrows, jays, juncos starlings and titmice. Hanging peanut feeders draw chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers.

Nyjer seed feeders draw chickadees, doves, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, pine siskins, purple finches, redpolls and various sparrows.

Suet feeders come in many forms, but the most common basic element is the wire to hold a suet cake. Suet is a fat-based product that may also contain seed, peanut butter or insects. The cage is hinged and has a simple latch for locking. The simplest are hung or attached to the sides of other feeders. However, ingenious designers have come up with various improvements. The upside down suet cage is covered with a small roof to protect the cake from rain. Clinging birds hold on to the bottom of the structure and feed. Tail prop suet feeders are designed with woodpeckers in mind. Rather than in a square cake form, the suet can be presented in a log held in place by a round wire holder.

Suet feeders will bring cardinals, chickadees, creepers, kinglets, nuthatches, starlings, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrens. Suet with peanut butter draws bluebirds, cardinals, goldfinches, jays, juncos, kinglets, starlings, thrushes, woodpeckers and wrens.

There is even a suet feeder designed to simulate a tree trunk. Thin cakes consisting of suet and peanut butter are sandwiched between two slabs. This one is particularly attractive to woodpeckers.

Some birds have a sweet,...uh..., beak, so certain feeders are appropriately designed to hold slices of fruit, dollops of jelly or nectar. Bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, yellow-breasted chats, jays, mockingbirds, orioles, starlings, tanagers, thrashers, thrushes and woodpeckers enjoy fruit. We are all familiar with hummingburd nectar feeders. But nectar made more readily available is appreciated by cardinals, finches, orioles, tanagers, thrushes and woodpeckers.

Bluebirds like small insects like mealworms. Bluebird feeders are designed to hold the mealworms and to provide a protected environment for the birds as they dine.

Placement of your bird feeder is nearly as important as what you put in it. It should be situated where it is easy to view and convenient to fill.

The feeder should be near to trees and shrubs for shelter where they may assess the situation and wait until it is their turn to feed. Evergreens are perfect, providing protection from weather and a hiding place from predators. About 12 or 15 feet distance should be good. A combination of shrubs and trees can provide shelter for a greater number of species.

Hummingbird feeders should be protected from the wind in order to avoid spilling nectar. A shady place will keep the nectar relatively cool.

Birds may not visit your feeder right away. Sometimes it takes awhile for the news to get around. Be patient. But if the birds still don't come, reconsider whether the setting is hospitable.

Though they never ask a crumb from you, come feed the birds. You'll be glad that you do.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Behind A Garden Wall in El Paso

What grows behind that garden wall? Follow us and we'll show you.

The landscape around El Paso, TX is stark and dry, seemingly inhospitable to all but the hardiest of plants. To think that one could grow a lush garden there seems impossible. But this lovely oasis welcomes you with its tropical appearance. See what this resourceful gardener has done as you take this photographic tour.

"It is a challenge to figure out what to plant but so much fun" she told me.

bold entrance beckons us with colorful enticements and a hint of what grows beyond the garden door. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) adorns the wall. Tropical palms lend the romance of desert oases while colorful Margarita Sweet Potato vines (Ipomea batatas) spill out of terra cotta and blue glazed planters.

Lovely shades of pink and white work well with the colors of the house and surrounding hills. But you'll also find other colors in flower and foliage.  
A partial list of plants in this wonderful sanctuary includes:

Persian Buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus), Mont Blanc Asiatic Lily (Lilium x 'Mont Blanc'), Red Carpet Border Lily (Lilium x 'Red Carpet'), Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Upright Elephant Ear (Alocasia macrorrhizos), Black Stem Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesii'), Wild Taro (Colocasia esculenta), Bat-Wing Passion Flower (Passiflora coriacea), Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea), Creeping Red Verbena (Verbena peruviana), Echinacea 'Magnus', Echinacea 'Sunset', Little Business Daylily, Chicago Apache Daylily, Aster x 'Monch', Pink Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi), Blood Lily (Haemanthus coccineus), Dahlia x 'Fleurel', Dahlia x 'Apache', Dahlia x 'Golden Emblem', Dahlia x 'Rosella', Dahlia x 'Red Majorette', Dahlia x 'Kennemerland', Dahlia x 'Ace Summer Sunset', Caladium 'Aaron', Caladium 'Postman Joyner', Golden Groundsel (Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona'), Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa) and Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria).