By Joanna Bastian
Emily Dickinson once wrote a short note to a friend, expressing a wish: “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”
When the trees and bushes outside my kitchen window are full of birds flitting back and forth and singing, I imagine I know what she means. Bird watching is a cheap thrill, akin to a trip to heaven without the expensive cost of dying first.
My favorite pocket guide for bird identification is the Methow Valley Field Guide, published by the Methow Conservancy. The waterproof, fold-out guide includes full-color illustrations of birds, other animals and wildflowers commonly found in the valley. On the back is a map of local trails perfect for family day hikes and bird watching. The guide can be purchased at Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop, the Glover Street Market in Twisp, and other local businesses.
With winter’s fleeting daylight and frosty temperatures, there are fewer birds in the yard, and few regulars at the feeder. The most common feathered guest is the black-capped chickadee, an adorable and curious little bird. With a black head, white cheeks, gray back and soft fluffy buff-colored underside, the black-capped chickadees are chubby little cuties. They do not linger at the feeder, but instead grab seeds before dashing to a nearby tree branch to enjoy their meal.
Another common visitor to the feeder is the red-breasted nuthatch, with a telltale black stripe across the eye, a bluish-grey back, and a rusty orange belly. These are fun to watch as they move up, down and sideways with no apparent regard for which way is right-side up.
The seed that attracts the widest variety of birds is black oil sunflower seeds. The kernels have a high fat content that winter birds need to survive. Wheat and cracked corn are excellent tossed onto the ground for junco, quail and turkeys. Betty Hagenbuch recommends rolling pine cones in peanut butter and then sunflower seeds for a tasty bird food treat to hang from tree limbs. Baked pumpkin seeds are also a delicious treat.
Anna’s hummingbirds are in the area year round. They enjoy a ratio of 1:4 sugar to water. Wrap the feeder in Christmas lights to keep the liquid food from freezing.
In winter, extra calories and fat found in suet are necessary for birds to maintain their body heat and energy. Suet can be store-bought with additional ingredients mixed into it to attract a variety of birds. Unsalted nuts, dried fruit, birdseed, honey and stale bread are delicious additions for birds.
Birdseed bells make great gifts and attract birds to the yard. It is an economical gift that keeps on giving. To make three bird bells, you will need three small terracotta pots, garden wire, 12 egg whites, six cups of wild bird seed, and oven bags.
Preheat an oven to 250 degrees and line the terracotta pots with oven bags. Beat egg whites until fluffy, and stir in the bird seed. Press the bird seed mixture into lined terracotta pots. Cut a length of wire for each pot, 6 inches longer than the height of the pot. Twist one end of each wire into a loop. Insert the straight end of the wire into the seed mixture and through the hole in the bottom of the pot. Bend the looped end flat against the seed mixture.
Place the pots in the oven on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes until the seed mixture is firm. Remove the bells from the oven, and while the pot is still warm, invert and remove the seed bell. Pull the wire through the top of the bell and bend the straight end of the wire to create a loop to hang from a tree limb.
Bald eagles are quite stunning to watch and can be seen most often along the rivers, looking for fish, or along the highways, looking for road kill. Don’t worry if you hit a deer, you’ve just provided a meal for one of our many predators and carnivorous birds. Think of it as a “customized homemade bird treat.”
That reminds me of a joke Melissa Kendrick posted on my Facebook page last week:
So a vulture boards a plane with two dead raccoons,“Only one carrion per passenger,” remarked the steward.
The feisty comedienne will be performing at the Carlton General Store this week. You can get a bag of bird seed there, and a dozen eggs to make bird bells.