Feederwatch is a citizen science project that has been running for decades all over North America. In Canada it is managed by Birds Canada. We have been “Feederwatching” in our Baie-D’Urfé garden for almost 25 years and have accumulated some exciting records and observations.
In essence, participants count birds visiting the vicinity of their gardens (with or without feeders) intermittently during two days each week. It can be half an hour, a morning, the whole day. Up to you. You report your observations via a simple website or smartphone app. That’s all. These data add to a massive database recording year by year what species of birds in what numbers are to be seen all over the continent. By playing poor small part in this variations in species numbers are being monitored and conservation efforts aided. It’s really important – and great fun. To quote from Birds Canada: “You don’t have to have a feeder. The plants, water and other features around our homes provide important habitats for birds year-round. To help birds, we need to understand how these habitats and the birds using them are changing over time. Your counts of winter yard birds tell us which species are doing well and which ones need our conservation attention. Everyone is welcome. You don’t need to be an expert birder. You also don’t need to make a huge time commitment – you decide how much time you spend. Even if you count birds only once during the season, that is a helpful snapshot of the birds in your location.”
What can you see? We regularly see all the common resident species of birds to be expected around here in winter and occasionally some real rarities. Chickadees, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, assorted Woodpecker species, Juncoes, Robins are regulars but also winter finches will be coming down from the north to join us, we hope for Carolina Wrens and there will be Hawks and crows and maybe a Raven too.
The birds that stay here in winter are helped to get through the cold months by our providing them with a little extra food. Here’s something you can easily make, maybe with a little supervision. The suet bell is a highly calorie dense food that is accessible to the smaller birds who can feed from it without being too disturbed by the big guys who don’t always find it easy to hang upside down when eating.
Une cloche à suif pour nourrir les oiseaux
Les oiseaux qui restent ici en hiver sont aidés à traverser les mois froids en leur fournissant un peu de nourriture supplémentaire. Voici quelque chose que n’importe qui peut facilement faire, peut-être avec un peu de supervision. Le suif est un aliment très calorique accessible aux petits oiseaux qui peuvent s’en nourrir sans être trop dérangé par les gros.
1.Get some strong twine, the rougher and shaggier the better (not plastic please) and thread it through the drainage hole of a terracotta flowerpot. Tie a huge knot on the inside of the hole so that the completed feeder will hand upside down – you should be able to lift the pot with base uppermost without it sliding down the twine. If you have some putty (or even well-chewed chewing gum) you could use that to make the hole even better sealed. If your knot includes a short stick or a nail then so much the better.
2.Put enough lard, suet or coconut fat to three-quarters fill the flowerpot into a metal pot or jug over a saucepan of water – you need to use an edible fat that sets hard. Heat the water gently until the fat melts – the water keeps the fat away from the heat source and avoids burning. The fat will melt more easily if you break it up into chunks beforehand.
3.Make a mixture of bird seeds, raisins, broken nuts and perhaps crumbled crisp breads and stir them into the melted fat.
4.Place the flower pot the right way up in a dish (the dish is to catch any escaping fat before it makes a mess). Chill the base with some ice cubes and bake sure the knot is really blocking the hole. The long end of the twine inside the pot should be wound round a stick so that it emerges from the fat when completed – the picture shows how to do this. Take out the ice and then gently pour in a quarter inch or so of melted fat to seal the base. Let it harden.
5.Then you can pour in all the fat and seed mixture and put the pot somewhere to cool. Let the fat set hard. It will take longer than you expect, so be patient.
6.Tie some nice big knots and loops in the twine that is now emerging from the surface of the fat – these are to give the birds something to grip with their feet. You could knot in a short stick too – anything for the birds to be able to hang on to.
7.Take it outside and hang it up where you can see it from your windows. You may need to talk to the squirrels and explain to them that this is not for their enjoyment.
Make a list of all the bird species that come to eat at the bell this winter. If you could also get nice photographs during the winter we could share one or two of them in a future News & Views edition.