Wednesday, February 1, 2012

National Bird Feeding Month

btb Tomorrow may be the ground hog’s big day, but the rest of February belongs to the birds.

In 1994, John Porter, a former United States Representative from Illinois, proclaimed February as National Bird Feeding Month. This resolution was passed in an effort to help encourage people to discover the  fun and beneficial hobby of backyard bird feeding.

When I was a kid, I thought that bird watchers were real nerds. But now I start each day singing a different tune – and it is often accompanied by birdsong.

Backyard birding has been called one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the nation. According to the  National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR), in 2006  more than 71 million people said that they enjoy wildlife watching and over 68 million  of them say that they do it around their homes. The report also says that these wildlife-watchers spent over $45 billion dollars on their hobby.  If I’m a nerd, I’m obviously one of many.

What I think is great about backyard birding is that it helps encourage people to take care of the planet. Once you start attracting wildlife to you yard, you soon learn that they like native plants and they DON’T like chemicals (such as pesticides, herbicides, etc.)

So if you aren’t already a bird watcher, I encourage you to give this fast growing hobby a peep – I mean a peak. It doesn’t take much of an investment to get started and winter is a great time to provide a little extra nourishment to neighborhood birds. Put out a bird bath or other water source or buy an inexpensive feeder and a bag of seed. Make sure that they are out of the reach of wandering cats or other predators. And then sit back and enjoy the music!

Maryland Statistics -
Total wildlife-watching participants . . . . . 1,491,000
Around-the-home participants . . . . . . . .  1,322,000
Total expenditures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $633,699,000

Virginia Statistics -
Total wildlife-watching participants . . . . . 2,312,000
Around-the-home participants . . . . . . . .  2,082,000
Total expenditures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $960,190,000

How I became a bird nerd

downy1 February is National Bird Feeding Month, so I thought I would write a post about how I got interested in bird watching.

I’ve always liked nature and wildlife but my interest really took off back in the early 1970’s.

My mother came home from a trip to Oklahoma and told me that my Aunt Fran (aka Miss Fran from Story Land if you grew up out there) had her yard certified as a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Backyard Wildlife Habitat . Knowing my Aunt Fran (she’s one of my idols), she may have been one of the first people in the country to do so. I thought it was so cool, that I wanted to have my yard certified too. So I learned, from the NWF, what I needed to do to help attract wildlife. I made my yard wildlife friendly by adding elements that provided food, water, shelter and places to raise young and by eliminating the many dangers that could harm the wildlife.

One of the first things I learned to do, of course, was to eliminate chemicals from my landscape. Chemicals in the landscape can harm birds, bees, hummingbirds, beneficial insects and even human critters and once I cut them out, a lot more wildlife species began hanging around. I also learned the benefits of adding native plants, which are usually great sources for feeding local wildlife.

My yard began attracting birds and butterflies and life was good.

A few years later, I was writing for the home & garden section of a local newspaper and I suggested that the editor let me write about the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. I got to visit many certified Backyard Wildlife Habitats in the area and seeing what those very eco-minded people had done with their yards just added fuel to the wildlife-loving fire in my heart.

That was the beginning of a whole new relationship with nature and the environment for me. Once I got up close and personal with wildlife, I started learning more and more ways to protect the critters, which meant learning how to protect the environment. I gave workshops to teach other people how to create environmentally friendly landscapes. And some of those people went on to train others.

I guess you can say that the seed that the NWF planted in me, to protect the environment, took root and has had a far-reaching effect.

Many people have heard of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program (which is now called the Certified Wildlife Habitat Program), but most of them probably don’t know that the program started from an article that they had in the April 1973 issue of National Wildlife Magazine. The article encouraged people to landscape and garden in a more sustainable, natural way, with wildlife in mind, to help restore the ecological balance of the planet.

Response to the article was so overwhelming that NWF began the Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program (originally known as Backyard Wildlife Habitat program) that same year to educate people about the benefits, for both people and wildlife, of creating and restoring natural landscapes.

There are currently over 140,000 NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats in the country and just from my own experience, I would guess that a good percentage of those property owners have made major changes to their gardening practices that have ended up having a significant positive impact on the planet.

So in honor of National Bird Feeding Month, I encourage you to take a closer look at nature. Cut down on the chemicals in your landscape. Plant some native plants. And learn to share your yard with the critters that were here before you!

10 Tips for Creating a Wildlife Friendly Garden

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