Birding ideas for a pandemic

A Tennessee warbler and hooded warbler look for fruit during a cold snap during spring migration. (Photos by Sharon Stiteler)

Some of the people in this country have never done fieldwork or gone camping, and it shows. While everyone else is stocking up on toilet paper, I’m making sure my binoculars are cleaned up. I’m making sure I have some bird seed and some suet. Getting outside and birding is how I will survive the COVID-19 situation.

Spring migration is underway, and with most sports and concerts cancelling or postponing and museums closing, what are we left with to do? Hey, our yards full of wildlife.

As the early migration of waterfowl kicks in, it’s soon followed by native sparrows and finches. Next we will get some yellow-rumped warblers, kinglets, catbirds, thrushes and before we know it will be May with orioles, hummingbirds, and all the warblers.

When I worked at a wild bird feeding store, people would always ask me, “When do I stop feeding the birds?” I thought this was bananas because spring is the most fun time. Oh sure, when common grackles and red-winged blackbirds find your feeders, it can be a pain in the neck, but it’s worth it when the rose-breasted grosbeaks hop in on your safflower feeder. It will be entertainment for you and it may even be educational for kids on an extended spring break.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak Birdchick

Rose-breasted grosbeaks will be back before we know it and aren’t to be missed, virus or not.

So what can you do?

  1. Load up on black oil sunflower seeds. More birds eat this seed than any other type of seed out there. Sunflower seeds are best.
  1. Save one feeder for safflower only. Starlings cannot crack open hard shelled seeds and will leave it alone. Grackles and red-winged blackbirds appear to not care for it. They will certainly kick it to the ground, but don’t worry, cardinals, grosbeaks, house finches, mourning doves, chickadees and titmice will happily gobble it up in a hopper feeder or from the ground.
  1. Consider making you own suet. As the weather gets warmer, some suets are at risk of melting. There are several popular doughs you can purchase and they are handy when we get a sudden cold snap and warblers and tanagers come to feeders out of desperation. Bluebirds, orioles and catbirds will eat it, too. A great recipe to check out is Zick Dough from Julie Zickefoose.
  1. Download iNaturalist for kids. This app can help kids identify pants, insects, birds and critters in the backyard. You can also use it to report your findings and learn what species are to be expected in your neighborhood. There’s a simplified version of the app that really appeals to kids known as Seek. Both apps are available for iPhone and Android and are free, but you do need to create an account to use it.
  1. Consider a bird walk in parks that are open in your area if you feel healthy enough to go outside. You can enjoy the peace of nature and in a wide open area, it’s easier to maintain a six-foot or more distance from other people. You might also see a bald eagle soar overhead or a white-tailed deer lurking among the trees.
  1. Grab some grape jelly. Orioles won’t be here for another month, but it’s best to be ready if you’re home bound for a few weeks and those bright orange birds will be a welcome sight.

The future is uncertain and circumstances are changing rapidly, but for me, I always find comfort in birds.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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