A Special Visit

     Its been a wet, dreary week in my backyard and I love it! Though I’ve put away my gardening dreams for the winter I am delighted with all the new activity at the bird feeders. The colder weather has brought in flocks of Juncos that spend hours foraging under the hanging feeders. At least a dozen White-throated Sparrows have joined them along with a few Song Sparrows. I’ve been filling the platform feeders twice a week to keep this hungry crowd happy! It’s a blessing to have these new guests at a time when everything else is heading south.
     I’m still waiting for one special visitor to show up. There have been a number of sightings of Tufted Titmouse in the Red Wing area. This small relative of the Chickadee is not uncommon on the Wisconsin side of the river in Buffalo, Trempealeau, and La Cross counties. But reports are rare this side of the river, especially this far north! Mild winters and more backyard feeders have helped some southern species extend their range northward. The Cardinal is a perfect example. As pioneers moved north and west, they cleared large tracks of virgin forest. Many forest dwelling species continue to suffer from this dramatic loss of habitat but others have capitalized on the opportunity. The first Cardinals were reported in Minnesota in 1875. It is questionable whether this bird can survive the tough winters much further north but urban areas with reliable bird feeders can sustain small populations outside of their normal range. Even today the sight of a Cardinal in Duluth or Bemidji is a big deal!
     As November drives us back indoors, I am thankful for the simple pleasure a Cardinal can bring to a cold morning. For many, especially the elderly, watching backyard wildlife is an affirmation, a joy, and a daily comfort. Even when friendships fail or are lost, when family members are far away, or getting out is difficult, the birds and squirrels and rabbits are still there, everyday. You can count on the Chickadees to make you smile, and the Nuthatch to make you laugh. And no mater how young or how old you are, a bright Cardinal on new fallen snow will still take your breath away.
     As the holidays draw near we anticipate the arrival of many visitors. Here are some tips for sharing the joys of nature with your friends and loved ones.

1.Watchable Wildlife: If you have visitors from out of town, take them to see some special wildlife in your area. If you live along the Upper Mississippi River Valley, November viewing opportunities include hundreds of Bald Eagle, Tundra Swan, and huge rafts of Common Merganser. Take a drive down the back roads looking for turkey and deer. Most people have never seen a Wild Turkey in the wild! Local birding maps can show you the best locations and times of year to see some amazing birds.
2.Baking for the Birds: A great project to do with young children. Start with trip to the library where the kids check out books about backyard birds. Then a trip to the wild bird store where they bag their own seed and learn about the birds they will be feeding. At home, whip up a batch of corn bread muffins, minus the salt and sugar. Add the bird seed and bake. Hang some high, put some low and keep a list of the different species come. Which birds came to hanging muffins? Which birds ate the muffins on the ground? Does anyone else like Birdy Muffins?
3.Building for the Birds: Construct a bird house together. Several good books of easy, practical designs are available. Consider the types of birds that might use the house and where it could be mounted. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Chickadees, and Wrens are all common in this area and tolerate monitoring (checking the nest). Include a trip to the library, hardware store, lumber yard and a wild bird store. After the house is built, ask for help in mounting the house next spring. Encourage future involvement by monitoring the house together whenever possible. Each fall the house will need to be cleaned out or maybe repaired. A cherished and well kept wren house might become a family heirloom.
4.Up Close and Personal: Young and old alike enjoy having the opportunity to view wildlife up close. Window feeders bring the birds to the viewer. For children, this close up experience can lead to greater interest and enthusiasm for nature. For the elderly, it may be the only way they can enjoy the birds. Failing eyesight makes it difficult to see small birds at feeders placed at a distance. Some individuals can no longer fill their feeders because of physical limitations. Window feeders can solve both these problems. Before a parent or Grandparent gives up bird feeding research all the options. For those elderly that live alone or in care facilities, watching the birds can be a great comfort in their day. Window feeders are easy to maintain and are available in many styles. When visiting older friends and family always offer to fill their feeders.

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022