Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are taking turns at my suet feeder, chickadees are voicing their soft fee-bee-bee spring song and the first buttercup yellow goldfinches snack at the seed feeder. All of a sudden our garden is alive with birds.
On these warm April days I’m filling birdfeeders and cleaning out nest boxes. (Truth be told, my husband does the nest boxes.)
Feeding wild birds and setting out nest boxes brings our avian neighbors closer to our notice. We begin to learn their names and make a personal connection. On balance I believe this is good, not only for us, but often for the birds. When we appreciate their presence in our lives, we become better nature stewards and create a healthier environment.
Recently our 2½-year-old granddaughter Josie visited from Virginia. Before arriving, her avian vocabulary included only two words “bird” for any bird seen on land or “duck” for birds on water.
I positioned her booster chair so that during meals she could look out the window to our hanging seed feeders. The feeders attracted birds close enough for her toddler eyes to register the individuality of the birds.
Three days later she proudly identified “chick-a-dee” or “sparrow.” And after a couple ferry rides also knew “seagull.”
Along with the joys of feeding wild birds come responsibilities and potential problems. It’s important to target the birds you want to attract and offer them a healthy diet.
If you choose to feed birds, do so conscientiously.
Here on Whidbey, we need to consider the health of the birds, but also our human neighbors. For example, if you offer seed and the birds scatter bits and pieces to the ground, sooner or later you will attract rats.
I want to discourage flinging out any old thing such as day old bread and table scraps to see what might fly in and eat it. That practice can support unwanted species, such as crows, starlings and house sparrows.
You may be passionate about crows, but your neighbors may consider them pests. And once attracted to a neighborhood, they are hard to discourage.
The unfortunate result of irresponsible bird feeding is that many condos, and shared housing communities have banned bird feeding. That’s a shame since there are clean and rodent-proof ways of feeding and attracting birds.
Attracting hummingbirds with sugar water is a safe, rodent-proof option. Special seed feeders with trays to catch the scattered bits can minimize what falls to the ground. It will be worth the purchase when chickadees, nuthatches, finches, sparrows and juncos flutter to within inches of your window. Give feeder, as well as the area around it, a good cleaning every few weeks.
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited in Clinton or Whidbey Wild Bird in Oak Harbor and talk to the very knowledgeable owners.
While on the topic of responsible bird stewardship I must mention birdhouses. Again, target the species you want to attract with a house that fits their needs. Focus on the correct size and shape of entry hole. Chickadees, wrens and Violet-green and Tree Swallows readily come to birdhouses.
The wrong-sized hole invites in starlings and house sparrows, both introduced species that overpower and push out our sweet native birds.
Recently I visited our neighbors across the street and watched a hummingbird buzz up to their porch and pluck pieces of nest making materials from a ball, which they had set out for that purpose. Those balls are sold commercially but you can also offer dryer lint and pet hair brushings in a mesh bag. Once the birds know the source, they’ll return every year to gather bits for their nests.
The next time our little Josie visits we hope to teach her “woodpecker,” “goldfinch” and “hummingbird.” And years down the road when her children come, I hope there will be a rich variety of species to observe out of our kitchen window.
Frances Wood is the author of “Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West.” Check out her Web site at, click here.