Enhance Backyard Birdwatching–Feed & Protect Birds

Ripple Effects: Enhance Backyard Birdwatching When You Feed & Protect Birds: Downy Woodpecker Male at Bird Feeder Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer
[Downy Woodpecker Male at] Bird Feeder
Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer

Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window Courtesy US FWS Brett Billings Photographer Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window
Courtesy US FWS
Brett Billings Photographer

Birdwatching is a fun hobby for all ages and it is a great way to connect with nature and increase self-efficacy, so let’s discuss the benefits and the importance of a safe environment for feeding our backyard birds. First, the benefits of supplemental feeding, and second, preventable deaths from cats and window collisions.

Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds, especially through the winter months. Sites with bird feeders attract more birds over time than those without feeders, and the birds are in overall greater health than birds at sites without feeders. A higher percentage of chicks hatch at sites with bird feeders, and the survival rates are significantly higher, but supplemental feeding must be done in a safe environment.

Free ranging domestic cats and window collisions are leading causes of bird deaths in North America. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States alone. Approximately one billion birds are dying from window collisions each year in North America – that represents about ten percent of our birds dying from crashing into windows (1), and combined, that’s over three billion fewer insect eaters, fewer pollinators, fewer seed spreaders, and fewer parents for the next generation.

Cats should be kept indoors, and windows should be treated, especially if they reflect trees and shrubs. If you have seen a ghostly bird imprint or heard the sickening thump of a bird hitting your windows, then those are windows in need of treatments such as screens, translucent UV tape, or even tempera paint designs, because even birds that manage to fly away have potentially life-threatening internal injuries. Feeders less than 3 feet away don’t allow birds to build up too much speed before they collide, so it’s good to put feeders and birdbaths 3 feet or closer to a window or greater than 30 feet away.

Feeders placed on or near windows have the added benefit of being easy to access and monitor. In addition to a window suet feeder, one of my favorite window feeders is actually a clear plastic suction-cup toothbrush cup holder from the dollar store – it’s easy to clean and there’s no need for binoculars!

In addition to enhancing a backyard bird watching hobby and improving bird health and survival, the ripple effects of feeding birds, keeping cats indoors, and preventing window collisions include pest control in our gardens where birds feast on slugs, snails, aphids and grasshoppers. I for one particularly appreciate Black-billed Magpies when they remove wasp nests from my house! The Bridgerland Audubon website has tools, coloring pages, checklists, and science-based information on window collision prevention. Solutions can be as simple as the careful placement of bird feeders and keeping cats indoors. Find us at bridgerlandaudubon.org, that’s Bridgerland Audubon – A-U-D-U-B-O-N dot org.

I’m Hilary Shughart, and I’m wild about Bridgerland Audubon, wild about Utah Public Radio, and Wild About Utah!Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
Images: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, Leah Schrodt and Brett Billings, Photographers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional ReadingSupplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Procure Bird Seed from local Audubon Chapters:
Great Salt Lake Audubon
Bridgerland Audubon
Other Statewide Birding Groups

Hellstern, Ron, Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home, Wild About Utah, July 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/build-community-wildlife-habitats/

Hellstern, Ron, Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard, Wild About Utah, May 28, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/attracting-birds-and-butterflies-to-your-yard/

Beorchia, Mykel, How To Create a Bird Friendly Yard, Wild About Utah, November 9, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/how-to-create-a-bird-friendly-yard/

Shughart, Hilary, To Grow Your Own Bird Food, Native Plants Are Key!, Wild About Utah, April 12, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/native-plants-are-key/

Kervin, Linda, Bird Feeding, https://wildaboututah.org/bird-feeding/

Kervin, Linda, Cane, Jim, Feed the Birds, Wild About Utah, December 1, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/feed-the-birds/

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/landscapingforwildlife.pdf

Sizemore, Grant, Cats Indoors–Cats and Birds, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/

Bird-Strike Prevention: How to Stop Birds From Hitting Windows, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/glass-collisions/stop-birds-hitting-windows/

Messmer, Terry, Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, and Sullivan, Kimberly, Ask an Expert: Seven Tips to Keep Birds from Hitting Your Windows, Utah State University Extension, March 28, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/news_sections/agriculture_and_natural_resources/bird-windows

Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, Sullivan, Kimberly and Messmer, Terry, Reducing the Risk of Birds Colliding into Windows:
A Practical Guide for Homes and Businesses [NR/Wildlife/2017-01pr], Utah State University Extension, March 2017, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2682&context=extension_curall

Klem, Jr., Daniel, Solid Air: Invisible Killer: Saving Billions of Birds from Windows, Hancock House Publishers, October 5, 2021, https://www.amazon.com/Solid-Air-Invisible-Killer-Billions/dp/0888396465

For the Birds (Download Brochure PDF), US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, rev March 2001, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/api/collection/document/id/1107/download

Morse, Susan, To Feed or Not to Feed Wild Birds–Bird Feeders Can Be Sources of Joy — and Disease,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/feed-or-not-feed-wild-birds

Make Your Home a Safe, Healthy Home for Birds,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Sep 13, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/story/2021-09/backyard-birds

Celley, Courtney, Helping wildlife while avoiding common pitfalls,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/helping-wildlife-while-avoiding-common-pitfalls

West Nile virus bird identification, , Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, October 20, 2017, https://wildlife.utah.gov/bird-identification.html

Dragon, Sydney, (Student Conservation Association intern), Conservation in Urban Areas: Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service Bird Walks (Texas), U.S. Department of the Interior, Apr 27, 2021, https://youtu.be/2bkliew6aj8

Naturally Carbonated Water

Naturally Carbonated Water: Soda Springs Geyser, Soda Springs, Idaho, Courtesy & &copy Mary Heers, PhotographerIf you like drinking carbonated water as much as I do, you’ll be happy to hear you can drink as much as you’d like, -absolutely for free- just north of the Utah border in Soda Springs, Idaho.

Idan-Ha Mineral Water, Courtesy & &copy Mary Heers, Photographer
Idan-Ha Mineral Water
Courtesy & &copy Mary Heers, Photographer

Small Bubbling Soda Water Pool, Courtesy & &copy Mary Heers, Photographer Small Bubbling Soda Water Pool
Courtesy & &copy Mary Heers, Photographer

When settlers heading to California passed through this area on the Oregon Trail, they saw the many bubbling natural springs.

In 1838 Sarah White Smith, wrote in her diary, This is indeed a curiosity. The water is bubbling and foaming like boiling water.” But the water wasn’t hot.

She also wrote how delighted she was when she made bread with the water. “The bread was as light as any prepared with yeast.”

All this stirred up some fond memories I have of my high school science teacher who always made interesting things happen in the classroom. She put a pinch of sodium bicarbonate (commonly called baking soda) in a dish and added a couple tablespoons of water and vinegar. Voila! The dish began “bubbling and foaming like boiling water.”

For centuries something like this has been going on under the ground in Soda Springs. The carbonate rocks are mixing with slightly acidic water, sending CO2 bubbles to the surface .

By 1887, Soda Springs had grown to a bustling town. Some enterprising residents came up with a plan to capture the CO2 gas. They built giant drums over one of the springs and then built a five-mile pipeline to their bottling plant. There they mixed the gas with clear water from another spring and bottled it. The soda water was called “Idan-ha” and was shipped out on the railroad far and wide.

A bottle of Idan-ha mineral water
Mary Heers, Photographer
It won first place at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and again in the World’s Fair in Paris in 1905.

A decade later, another group of businessmen went to work on a plan to build a mineral water swimming pool resort.

On Dec 2, 1937, drillers dug down to 315 ft. No luck. They went to dinner. Then they heard a gush of water shoot up outside the window. They said it was “roaring like a dragon.” The whole area was enveloped in water vapor and Main Street was flooded. It took them two weeks to cap it.

The water wasn’t warm, so the businessmen abandoned their plans for a swimming pool resort.

The town knew their geyser was accidental; it was man-made- but still a plume of water shooting 100 ft into the air was impressive to look at.

Engineers put a timer on the cap. Now the carbonated water shoots up for 8 minutes every hour on the hour.

You can watch it for free.

As for drinking the naturally carbonated water, the city has set aside three springs.

Mineral springs in Soda Springs, Idaho
Mary Heers, Photographer
My guide drove me to his favorite site just outside of town We scrambled down a grassy hillside to a small bubbling pool about the size of a basketball. He whipped out a cup and dipped it in. I drank. It was cold and fizzy.

“Good as Perrier,” I said.

He smiled, “Now I like you.”

I liked him too. Even more, I loved drinking this tasty treasure bubbling up from the ground.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah


Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Price, Mike, Soda Springs, We Are East Idaho, EastIdahoNews.com LLC, September 9, 2019, https://www.eastidahonews.com/2019/09/we-are-east-idaho-soda-springs/

Hooper Springs Park, California National Historic Trail, Oregon National Historic Trail, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/places/000/hooper-springs-park.htm

A man-made CO2 Geyser in Utah:
Weaver, Lance, Crystal Geyser, Grand County, Utah, Geosights, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, January 2018, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/geosights/crystal-geyser/

Map on page 43 shows water from Soda Springs flows into the Bear River and the Great Salt Lake:
Dissolved-Mineral Inflow to Great Salt Lake and Chemical Characteristics of the Salt Lake Brine, United States Geological Survey (USGS) and The College of Mines and Mineral Industries, The University of Utah, 1963, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/open_file_reports/ofr-485/Lake%20Brine%20Interpretive%20Reports/WRB%2003%20-%20Part%201%20-%20Hahl%20&%20Mitchell%20-%201963/Water%20Resources%20Bulletin%203%20Pt%201%201963.pdf


Pika, Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
American Pika
Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
As I hike the high country, there is a non-bird call that always brightens my way. A mini rabbit, or rock rabbit in Jack vernacular, the pika, has been declared North America’s cutest mammal. I won’t argue with this declaration, unless it’s compared to my grandkids.

On a scramble up two gnarly peaks above Alta Ski Resort a few weeks ago, my spirits went sky high with an abundance of pika busily gathering hay for their winter larder. Their Ehhhhh! Notes surrounded us, tiny furry forms darting in and out of boulder fields while we made our way to the summits.

This was especially heartening given the warming trends, which push these little spirits beyond their limits of heat tolerance in too many locations. Pikas have disappeared from more than one-third of their previously known habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Despite this, the American pika has not been listed under the Endangered Species Act. The pika can overheat and die within 6 hours when exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

American pikas are famously vocal. They chirp, sing, and scream in an effort to protect their territory. They use their signature call to alert others in the colony of an approaching predator, to establish boundaries, and in some cases, to attract mates.

Pikas spend a great deal of time gathering vegetation for winter which they cure on rocks to prevent molding, then store their piles under rocks for safekeeping, occasionally moving them so they don't get rained on. Haystacks, as they're called, weigh a whopping 61 pounds on average. The timing of haying seems to correlate to the amount of precipitation from the previous winter. They appear to assess the nutritional value of available food and harvest accordingly. Pikas select plants that have the higher caloric, protein, lipid, and water content. They also enjoy their fecal pellets, which have more energy value than stored plant food, by consuming them directly or store for a later sweet treat.
Cedar Breaks National monument in southern Utah has adopted the pika as its token mammal. You can get your own stuffy who has a remarkable resemblance to the real deal. Your donation will help the Monument with its field research on the pika and other park critters.

Considering pika are mostly found in alpine and subalpine environments with cool temperatures and deep snow, I was shocked to find them occurring at Craters of the Moon NM in Idaho averaging 6000’ elevation. Summer temperatures at the Monument can soar to 170 degrees on the black rock surface, which would fry a pica in short order. Yet, here they are, finding relief in lava tubes and deep crevasses. Unlike their diurnal alpine cousins, they are primarily crepuscular- active early morning- late evening.

The American pika can be found throughout the mountains of western North America, from Canada to New Mexico. Of the 30 global species, only two inhabit North America, which includes the collared pika found in Alaska and Canada.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah and its rock rabbits!

Image: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/pika-animal-wildlife-nature-cute-5326942/
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Cane, Jim, Voice: Dick Hurren, Pikas, Our First Haymakers Wild About Utah, October 28, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/pikas-our-first-haymakers/

Cattail and Teasel

Cattail and Teasel: Josie's Nature Log Page. Used by Permission. Photo Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Josie’s Nature Log Page
Used by Permission
Photo Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Teasel in Bloom with Bumble Bee Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Teasel in Bloom with Bumble Bee
Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Cattail and Teasel in Bloom Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Cattail and Teasel in Bloom
Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Dried Teasel Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Dried Teasel
Photo Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

For many, this is the season transition between summer and back to school. This month, along with the generous gifts of caramel apples, whiteboard markers, and number 2 pencils, a child handed me a green notebook and a request. One of the greatest compliments a teacher could possibly receive, in my opinion, from a student having never been on any of my class lists, is an invitation to make a writing dialogue journal, a pen pal exchange with no grades or due dates attached. Today her entry concludes with, “Also I drew a picture of you and me in pencil.” I withdraw from the notebook’s back flap a flattering illustration of flowers, smiles, and sun rays, grab my colored pencils, and head outside to write.

Terry Tempest Williams honors a similar marshy invitation, begging us to enter the wonders of the wetlands, in her book “Between Cattails” with exquisite Peter Parnall illustrations. Amid snails and scuds, damselflies and waterlilies, red-winged blackbirds and mosquito tumblers, I am drawn to the familiar cattails. Having just spent some lazy summer days reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,” I now know that one can appreciate a cattail for its cucumber-tasting pith and protein-packed pollen, its gel that can soothe sunburns, and its fluff that can be used as tinder to light a fire or as soft yet absorbent layers in bedding. She taught me that “one of the words for cattail in the Potawatomi language …. means ‘we wrap the baby in it.’” When she takes students outside, she lets the plants teach them.

Many children I teach can identify cattails, but as I take my Josie journal out to the marsh to compose my writing response, I find another familiar plant that I cannot name. Quickly I realize that it has pale purple flowers; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in any color other than brown. Once again I find how unaware I have been, and a simple plant guide check reveals the name Dipsacus fullonum, or common teasel. It is an invasive tall plant with a spiky thistle-like flower head and more spiky spears growing up around it. Small dense flowers, from 250 to over a thousand of them, each blossom for only one day. I had only ever noticed it after its biennial life cycle: flowering, dying, then persisting as a dried stem and flower head the next season. Dipsacus comes from a Greek word meaning “thirst,” referring to the leaf cups at the stalk that collect rainwater and catch insects. Sometimes listed as noxious species, this non-native plant was brought from Europe and valued for teasing wool. Today I see bees are drawn to them, and next year finches and other seed-loving birds will visit.

Turning her drawing into my nature journal for this day’s outing, I add my plant perspective. I add some silver to the brown in my teasel-y hair and purple flowers to her shirt. She wrote that “writing makes me feel in my element” and when I take writing outside and really take time to notice the details, I couldn’t agree more.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I am wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Nature journal entry used with permission from Josie Dorsch and her parent Breanna Studenka, All Rights Reserved
Audio: Crickets Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
    Birds: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Pieces by Shannon Rhodes, https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

iNaturalist. Wild Teasel. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/56002-Dipsacus-fullonum

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. 2013. https://www.robinwallkimmerer.com/

National Park Service. Exotic Species: Common Teasel. https://www.nps.gov/articles/common-teasel.htm

Tilley, Derek. Commonly Occurring Wetland Plant Species for Idaho and Utah NRCS Wetlands Delineators. March 2019. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/plantmaterials/idpmctn13441.pdf

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Common Teasel. https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/terrestrial/plants/common-teasel

Williams, Terry Tempest. Between Cattails. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1985. https://www.terrytempestwilliams.com/