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

Federal Agencies Treating Glass to Reduce Bird Collisions, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/story/federal-agencies-treating-glass-reduce-bird-collisions


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/

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw, Pika Country: Climate Change at the Top of the World, September 18, 2020, https://www.amazon.com/Pika-Country-Climate-Change-World/dp/1970039027

Plumb, Sally, A Pika’s Tail, May 1, 2012, https://www.amazon.com/Pikas-Tail-Sally-Plumb/dp/0931895251

Wild About Utah Wildlife
and the Places They Need

Male Ring Necked Pheasant, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Male Ring Necked Pheasant, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
The Wild About Utah archives were one of the first local resources I learned of as a newcomer curious about the large birds striding across my backyard, so it should come as no surprise to learn that it drew me to Utah Public Radio and the Bridgerland Audubon Society, where I am learning all the time, and so pleased to be contributing to the celebration of 15 years of Wild About Utah on Utah Public Radio!

UPR and the Bridgerland Audubon Society are a good fit because of our shared interests in uplifting, informing, and connecting our audience to the world – to “inspire the mind, engage the imagination and perpetuate the habit of lifelong learning.”*

Many listeners know that “Audubon protects birds and the places they need today and tomorrow.”, and some know that Audubon holds a vision for “A future where birds thrive across the Americas because Audubon is a powerful, diverse, and ever-growing force for conservation.”, but everyone needs to know that the driving purpose is that “When we create conditions for birds to thrive, we create conditions for people and the planet to thrive, too.” The Bridgerland Audubon Society’s Amalga Barrens Sanctuary/ Cutler Marsh Important Bird Area (IBA) is a prime example of conservation in action:

The Bridgerland Audubon Society’s 146 acre Amalga Barrens Sanctuary Migratory Bird Protection Area (MBPA) includes one mile of Clay Slough [cow]- or “slew”! – open water for waterfowl and wading birds, and is part of the Cutler Reservoir and Marsh, a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) within the Great Salt Lake watershed. Water in an arid sagebrush steppe provides essential respite for migratory waterfowl, a few species of which are hunted on most other marshland in the region. Pickleweed, bulrush, cattail, and saltgrass provide cover, nesting, and food for birds and small mammals. Additional food sources include water insects such as water boatmen (corixids), and water mites.
Since 1927 Cutler reservoir and marsh have provided nearly 10,000 acres of varied habitat including open water, lowland riparian, wetland, wet meadow, playa, mudflats, grassland and agricultural fields for nesting, wintering, and stopover site for over 165 species of birds. White-faced Ibis, American Pelican, Long-billed Curlew, Black-necked Stilt, Avocet, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Great Blue Heron are noteworthy.

Cutler IBA stakeholders include PacifiCorp, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, with the 150 acre Bud Phelps Wildlife Management Area, Bridgerland Audubon Society, and the Utah State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Bear River sovereign land).

I have not forgotten those large birds which stride through my backyard: they’re the Ring-necked Pheasant, a game species introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1800s,** and it turns out the reason you’re likely to see one well-dressed gentleman with a bright red face and a crisp white collar, accompanied by several well-camouflaged females is that “Pheasants practice “harem-defense polygyny” where one male keeps other males away from a small group of females during the breeding season.”**; another interesting fact is that “Ring-necked Pheasants sometimes cope with extreme cold by simply remaining dormant for days at a time.”** – now isn’t that a clever adaptation!

I’m Hilary Shughart with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am Wild About Utah!

*The mission of Utah Public Radio is to enrich the lives of listeners throughout the State of Utah with quality programming designed to inspire the mind, engage the imagination and perpetuate the habit of lifelong learning. https://www.upr.org/mission

**Ring-necked Pheasant https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-necked_Pheasant/overview

Images: Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
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/

Utah’s Featured Birds and Viewing Sites: A Conservation Platform for IBAs and BHCAs, by Keith Evans and Wayne Martinson (2008)
Image of IBA sign can be seen here: https://rockies.audubon.org/chapters

IBA Factsheet https://nasworks.s3.amazonaws.com/resource_files/IBAs_PolicyUse.pdf

Cutler Reservoir & Marsh IBA of Global Importance UT08 https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/cutler-reservoir-and-marsh-ut08

Amalga Barrens eBird Checklist, 165 species https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L693440&yr=all&m=

Bud Phelps WMA, Utah DWR
“At the Bud Phelps WMA, we’re partnering with Pheasants Forever to plan work that includes food plots, other habitat enhancements and fencing. More woody vegetation is greatly needed on this WMA, which has been historically dominated by Garrison creeping meadow foxtail, a highly adaptable grass species. Measures to diversify the vegetation have been underway for a few years, and this project is part of that shift.” https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/766-better-habitat-morebirds.html

Strand, Holly, Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, October 21, 2006, https://wildaboututah.org/important-bird-areas/

Strand, Holly, Cutler Marsh-Amalga Barrens Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/cutler-marsh-amalga-barrens-important-bird-areas/


Shorebirds: Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri), Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023, Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023
Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Shorebirds in August? I’d been told there was a robust migration during that time, but hadn’t tested the validity of such until a week ago. Three other young ladies joined me to do a count at the Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area near Tremonton Utah. And boy did I need their younger eyes and energy as we were inundated with shorebirds- avocets, stilts, curlews, greater and lesser yellowlegs, dowitchers, marbled godwit, western sandpipers, killdeer, and a flock of small peepes (short for small sandpipers).

Myriad other magnificent migrants joined the mixed flock- numerous duck species, juvenile black crown night herons by the dozens, herons, egrets, ibis, terns, etc., but they don’t qualify as shorebirds, so we enjoyed their presence, but they didn’t make the list.

A few other non-migrants were noteworthy- a burrowing owl that posed beautifully on a fence post emitting constant chatters, and a very fat, mature western rattler with many buttons on its tail./ The Salt Creek WMA is a jewel that gets few visitors given its “out there” location competing with the 80 thousand acre Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge next door, which boasts an outstanding visitor center, offering many resources and educational programs.

This was the first official fall shorebird survey conducted in 30 years at roughly 200 sites across 11 western states. These surveys fill a critical three-decade data gap in our understanding of migratory shorebird populations and their distribution. The results will inform management and policy efforts to ensure there are resources to support birds and the places they need during their migratory journeys.

The survey was organized by the Sageland [Collaborative] organization, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and several others, conducted by volunteers and biologists via airplane, vehicles, ATVs, boats and on our feet. This survey will occur for the next three years, during the same week each spring and fall, to coincide with the peak shorebird migration across the region.

We’re part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, whose wetlands support nearly one-third of the global population of Wilson's phalaropes, more than half of American avocets, 37 percent of black-necked stilts, and 21 percent of the North American population of snowy plovers.

Shorebirds are a diverse group of birds including sandpipers, plovers, avocets, oystercatchers, and phalaropes. There are approximately 217 recognized species globally, 81 of which occur in the Americas for all or part of their lifecycle with 52 species breeding in North America, many of whom visit Utah.

Shorebird are the endurance marathoner winners, some migrating 20,000 miles a year. Their remarkable hemispheric travels coincide with peak abundant food. In their global pursuit of food and breeding grounds, home is nowhere, yet everywhere. As a result, shorebirds are difficult to track, monitor, and protect. /Shorebirds are among a few groups of birds showing the most dramatic declines. Their decline began in the 1800s, in part due to market hunting. As humans have continued to alter the landscape, shorebird populations have further decreased, with declines increasing rapidly in recent decades.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m Wild About Utah’s wild Shorebirds!

Image: Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Used by permission, https://www.wildlife.utah.gov/news_photos/2023-06-02-shorebirds-at-utah-lake.jpg
Audio: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, https://logannature.org/
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/

Van Tatenhove, Aimee, The Quiet Importance of Brine Flies, Wild About Utah, Nov 15, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/the-quiet-importance-of-brine-flies/

The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/

Migratory Shorebird Survey, The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/shorebirds?rq=shorebird

Statewide shorebird surveys restarted after 30-year hiatus; over 84,000 shorebirds counted during spring survey, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, June 2, 2023, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1679-statewide-shorebird-surveys-restarted-after-30-year-hiatus.html

Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area:
Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area, Utah Outdoor Activities, https://utahoutdooractivities.com/saltcreek.html
Salt Creek WMA, UtahBirds, Utah County Birders, https://www.utahbirds.org/counties/boxelder/BirdingSites.htm#SaltCreekWMA
1999-2001 Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey: (Salt Creek is #33 under Survey Areas) https://wildlife.utah.gov/waterbirdsurvey/
Salt Creek Habitat, GeoData Archive, Utah Geological Survey, Utah Division of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://geodata.geology.utah.gov/pages/view.php?ref=7975&search=%21collection104&offset=0&order_by=date&sort=DESC&archive=0