Bird Feeding

Pine Siskins and an
American Goldfinch feed
on thistle from a sock feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Many of our songbirds have departed for tropical climes to spend their winter. I confess that some days I envy them their choice. Like you and I, though, many others remain behind. They will fluff their feathers to tough out the cold, spending these short days in a perpetual hunt for food to keep them warm. You can help their hungry quest.

Remember the movie Mary Poppins and the scene where the lady sings “Feed the Birds”? She was feeding city pigeons, but you can feed our diverse songbirds using a convenient birdfeeder. For loose seed, we use a hopper feeder. The hopper resembles a tiny roofed house which is filled with seed that is dispensed from a trough at its base. To exclude squirrels, we have a metal squirrel-proof feeder, but you could put a baffle on the feeder’s supporting pole. The other common style of seed feeder is a broad tray. It will need a roof and drain holes to keep the seed dry and free of mold. Our feeder is above a stone walkway for birds like juncos that prefer seed spilled on the ground. A ring of upturned tomato cages around this area excludes cats, and the season’s discarded Christmas tree will provide them cover.

 

Hopper Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

The best seed to offer is black oil sunflower seed, rich in fats and proteins, with a thin shell. Our diners include chickadees, finches, sparrows, nuthatches and woodpeckers. If you buy seed mixes, juncos and sparrows will take white millet, but milo or so-called red millet is a filler. Doves and jays like cracked corn too. Goldfinches and pine siskins flock to Nyjer thistle seed dispensed from a fine mesh sock you can buy with the seed.

Hopper Feeder
with frustrated
squirrel
© 2008 Jim Cane

Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet feeder too, being a wire mesh cage containing a block of seed-filled suet, typically rendered from beef kidney fat. Expect magpies to hammer chunks off that suet block occasionally; our dog knows all about it. Nothing quite cheers a wintry day for me like colorful songbirds noisely bustling at our feeders.

If you do put up feeders, consider participating in Project Feeder Watch. You can find details on our web site, WildAboutUtah. Bon apetite!

Credits:

Suet Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2008 Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Jim Cane, Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Bird Recordings Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Kevin Colver, WildSanctuary, Soundscapes, http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

 

Additional Reading:

Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/feed.html

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

Educator’s Guide to Bird Study, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/feeding_birds/bird_feeders.htm

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Birdsource.org, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Creating landscapes for Wildlife — A Guide for Backyards in Utah, A production of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service & Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215

Autumn Colors

Autumn Colors: Fall Colors in Cache County Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society
Fall Colors in Cache County
Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society

In autumn, our days shorten noticeably and frosty dawns become the norm across most of Utah. Now leafy plants must be preparing for winter. Their summer of intense metabolic activities must gradually give way to winter’s dormancy. Photosynthesis and respiration are gradually shut down as nutrients and sugars are withdrawn from leaves, to be shunted to the stem and roots for storage.

The brilliant autumn yellows of our aspens, ash trees and cottonwoods, as well as the crimsons of our maples and sumacs, are all indicative of leafy plants frugality with their valuable nutrient stores. The foliar pigment phytochrome first registers the lengthening nights, initiating the cascade of physiological events that prepare a tree for the icy blasts of winter. Before discarding their leaves, deciduous trees and shrubs rescue and store what they can of sugars and nutrients found in their leaves.

The key photosynthetic green pigment, chlorophyll, and its attendant enzymes are all broken down, their components moved to storage for recycling next spring. Essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are likewise extracted from foliage for later reuse. With chlorophyll gone, the other colorful leaf pigments are revealed in all their glory. These accessory pigments have been there all along, they just have been masked by the dominant green of chlorophyll.

These accessory pigments serve several functional purposes for the leaf. Some pigments protect the leaf from sunburn, some scavenge free radicals, but most capture energy from wavelengths of light missed by chlorophyll. The multi-hued spectrum of sunlight, as revealed by a prism or a rainbow, not only allows us to see splashy fall foliage colors, it is the reason for their existence.

For the plant physiologist and chemist, then, the palette of colorful leaf pigments have complex functional explanations. More mysterious psychological stirrings accompany the aching beauty of our autumn foliage, but it gives an undeniable tug at my heart. Standing before a blazing yellow stand of aspens, I smile to think that recycling can be so beautiful.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy www.bridgerlandaudubon.org
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane, Linda Kervin

Additional Reading:
Utah Scenic Byways, http://www.utah.com/byways/fallcolorstour.htm
Utah Fall Colors, http://travel.utah.gov/Fallcolors.htm