The birds that keep us company all winter are like special gifts. Have you ever wanted to give something back to the birds that brighten winter? Something delicious? Like bacon grease and sand? Or cornmeal and sunflower seeds?
Many bird watchers have created treats for birds. (Or treats for friends who love birds.) Start with the recipes given below. Then make up your own recipe with ingredients that birds like, such as fruit, nuts, seeds, corn, cornmeal, suet, bacon grease, peanut butter, and rolled oats. Don't forget to add a little sand. Most birds need grit in their diet to help them grind up their food and to give them minerals that they need. Besides sand, you can give birds a little bit of wood ashes or canary grit from a pet store.
Another interesting way to feed birds in winter is to hang the carcass of your Thanksgiving turkey from a tree. Woodpeckers and other insect eaters will pick the bones clean!
The recipes are from my book, A Kid's Winter EcoJournal: With Nature Activities for Exploring the Seasons. The book was illustrated by Margaret Brandt.
Friends in high places
Yes, I have friends in high places. When I whistle, they come flying. I practically have them eating out of my hand.
It begins with a … well, if you’re not inclined to be generous, a bribe. I prefer to call it giving a small gift in exchange for a big gift. I pour three scoops of bribe into a bucket and go to our meeting place, where my lofty friends are waiting for me. I whistle a three-note call, almost a bird call, and my flighty friends come swooping down from all directions. I can watch them land in the trees around me, quickly coming nearer until they dart into the feeder, so close I can hear the soft whoosh of their wings. It’s thrilling to have this sense of friendship and communication with wild birds.
Feeder fun: Some pointers
Our feeder attracts birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and deer -- and once, a bear! So I buy shelled corn, sunflower seeds, and wild bird mix. In winter, we add fruit for bluebirds and suet blocks for woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, titmice, and chickadees. We put meat scraps on a stump in back of our house for crows and the fox. The fox loves salmon skin, and crows like almost anything from the compost pile. Oh, we also put out a salt block, which is sculpted into odd shapes by rain, snow, and much deer-licking.
You may be thinking that this sounds expensive. Of course, if you think of attracting and viewing wildlife as a hobby, it’s a bargain compared to many other activities that children and adults pursue. And there are ways to make it more affordable. I buy corn and birdseed in 50-pound bags from a feed mill. Fifty pounds of corn costs $7.00; birdseed costs $10.00. We buy suet blocks for 89 cents at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.
You don’t have to keep your feeder full all the time. Decide how much feed you can afford to put out each day, and then let the birds and other animals work it out. I’ve never tried to keep squirrels away from our feeder. They’re so much fun to watch – beautiful, clean, playful acrobats. They don’t overeat (well, my corn-fed squirrels are bigger than city squirrels); they don’t bully the birds or fight with each other. All of the animals eat together, some in the feeder, some on the ground. It makes an interesting, entertaining feeder.
Our feeder is placed on a five-foot post, too high for a cat’s leap. It’s surrounded by a large maple and shrubs, so that birds can dive for shelter when the hawk swoops down. There are several short lengths of hollow logs at the base of the feeder, an air raid shelter for chipmunks, birds, and squirrels.
It’s a good idea to offer water too. I’ve tried a number of things over the years, including a tier of copper pools with water splashing from one to another. A great hit with birds and butterflies, but too much maintenance. Now I keep water in a shallow pan on the ground or on a stump. It’s important in deep winter, when water is hard to find, to keep the ice broken or removed.
That’s all I know about feeders. My next blog will be about feeding.
Note: All of the photos in the slide show were taken at our feeder by Bob or Toni Albert.
Nature is a perfect laboratory for learning about our world. Exploring nature awakens children’s curiosity and sense of wonder and in a very “natural” way, introduces them to science and the scientific method. Learning to be observant leads to asking questions, doing research, making predictions, designing experiments, and drawing conclusions. And there you have it – a young scientist!
These activities will help ready a child (or an adult, of course) to reconnect with nature. They make wonderful "10-minute time outs."
Look closely -- and more closely.
Activities to help children become more observant
1 - It’s fun to run through a field, scramble up rocks, crash through the underbrush, or splash in a creek, but that’s not the best way to explore nature. Practice moving quietly. Sit still in one place, keeping all of your senses alert. Listen to the sounds -- or the silence -- around you. Breathe deeply and notice different smells. Look around you and observe details. Touch the bark of trees, fuzzy moss, or smooth stones.
2 - Look at a familiar place in a new way. Look at the scene upside down. Or concentrate on looking at shadows. Or look through colored glasses or colored cellophane. Look through a camera lens or binoculars. Did you see anything you hadn’t noticed before?
3 - Look for signs of animals: tracks, feathers or fur, nests, holes in trees or in the ground, narrow trails, bones, droppings, chewed nutshells, stripped plants, etc. Make a list of the signs of animals that you observe. What animals do you think were there?
4 - Keep a nature journal. Record anything interesting that you see outdoors, such as a tiny red mushroom or a spider web stretched between two trees.
5 - Take photos or make sketches to add to your nature journal. When you study something through the viewfinder of a camera or look closely at details in order to draw it, you'll really see it.
6 - Create a list of interesting things you’ve seen outside (an orange leaf, lichen, a black rock, etc.) and invite your friends to have a scavenger hunt. Give each person a copy of your list and see who can find the most objects on the list in 15 minutes.
7 - Take a tiny plastic bag (the kind that holds an extra button when you buy a new shirt) and fill it with tiny treasures, such as a berry or a miniature flower. This will force you to look closely.
8 - Look at the same tree every day for a week or two. In spring, observe the appearing of buds, flowers, and leaves. Measure the growth of a single leaf. In fall, watch the progress of coloring, fading, falling leaves. Look for nests, insects, and cavities. Look at the bark, the shape of the leaves, and the branching of the tree. Identify your tree with a field guide to trees.
Time to blog
There is a time for everything under the sun. (Even a time for Trump?) For me, it’s time to blog.
Many Americans who are deeply concerned about our environment are Trump-appalled. But I’ve noticed that some of our largest and most active environmental groups are working harder than ever. They are highly motivated, passionate, and energized. They’re gearing up to fight for clean air, clean water, uncontaminated food, and protected green spaces – the very things that we need in order to survive!
We all need to “gear up” and resolve to do our part. But what is my part? I’m a great-grandmother, a nature lover and a nature writer, an ardent student of birds and bugs and animals and children, and a bibliophile (I’ve written forty books and I’ve read one or two a week throughout my life). I will blog.
Most of my career has been spent “teaching kids to care for the Earth” in one way or another – through my books or in person. I believe that children who learn to love nature will naturally grow up to protect it. So as I blog along, I’ll include nature activities and nature news for children, as well as ideas for all of us to reconnect with nature.
NatureReconnect: 10-minute time-out
What would happen to us and to our lives if we took ten minutes each day to focus on some aspect of nature? How would it change our day, how would it change us, to suspend all activity (even the activity of worrying) for a few moments of quiet friendship with our natural environment?
When I was writing a series of four books with nature activities for exploring each season, I walked every day for a year through our woods, around the pond, and beside a little creek, Trickle Creek, with a notebook and pencil in my hand. I was teaching myself to observe the tiny, subtle changes that occur as the seasons progress. I recall that year as one of the most peaceful of my life.
Daily, consciously, reconnecting with nature can be therapy, meditation, prayer, rest and relaxation. It reawakens our sense of wonder, curiosity, and awe. In this blog, I'll be sharing some tiny discoveries and ten-minute adventures. This is such a small thing to contribute, but if each of us finds a way to stand up for a healthy planet – a small and modest way or an earth-shaking and stupendous effort – we can save our Earth-home.
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire
to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” - Elwyn Brooks White
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”