Robin at A Bumblebee Garden put up a wonderful post about evening grosbeaks making a comeback, which she read about at Project Feederwatch, through the wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I really enjoyed her post, and reading about Project Feederwatch too, and I'll be posting about something similar in the native plant department (PlantWatch, which goes throughout Canada; are there similar programs in your country?) in weeks to come. But for now, I have birds on the brain (which probably makes me a birdbrain, yes? The catchildren think so....)
Many of us feed birds as a part of our gardening experience. Carol at May Dreams Garden has just revamped her bird cafe after discussion with other enthusiasts about what to feed when and where. I have always loved birds, but have never claimed to know much about them. Not having studied them the way I’ve immersed myself in plants, I’ve always found find trying to tell one type of bird from another overwhelming to sort out. (Well, yes, okay, I can tell a blue jay from a chickadee, or a robin from a goldfinch. But you get the point).We feed the birds yearround here, and provide a wide variety of treats for the feathered visitors. But we can always learn more. That's where a delightful book by Sally Roth comes in. Roth is well known for her books on gardening and birding, with a focus on using natural, organic methods and a variety of native as well as naturalized plants to create lovely yards that teem with bird populations.
In Bird-by-Bird Gardening, Roth teaches us a little more about birds than many of us probably know. She does it, however, with an encouraging, never intimidating, tone, and this lavishly illustrated volume just teems with user-friendly information.Just as with plants, birds are classified into families sharing similar traits, and this is the first book that I find really explains the habits, traits and behaviours of a wide range of bird families.
Following several chapters on the basics of bird needs and some tips on garden design with birds in mind, Roth dedicates her attention to bird families and how we can attract them to our yards. She focuses on 19 families of birds, ranging from woodpeckers (which include flickers and sapsuckers as well as the familiar woodpeckers) to the swallow family to the large and small finch families to even the gallinaceous birds (grouse, pheasants, quail, and other birds that resemble domestic fowl).
In each of these chapters on "birds of a feather" (yes, she uses that pun too), Roth paints a portrait of the general traits and range of the most common or popular species of the family, along with feeding and nesting preferences. She then provides a fine list of plant selections that are useful for attracting members of the family, and she helpfully cross-references what other birds would be attracted by planting a particular species of perennial, tree or shrub. She provides helpful recipes for feeding birds (such as mixtures of fruit, seeds or suet that attract particular species), and sums up each chapter with a list of "Top to-dos" for the chapter’s family.
Roth is another one of those writers who never intimidates or condescends in her writing. She may know a formidable amount about birds, but she brings it down to a level that you and I can understand and enjoy. Her enthusiasm is boundless and reading through the chapters is like sitting down to have a conversation with an old friend over a cup of tea. I’ve used this comparison before with other writers, but to my mind it’s essential to inspire and excite people to try their hand at gardening, or at least birding, and the only way to do that is to be excited and inspirational, and not sound like you’ve answered the question a thousand times before.
The two chapters on finches are a prime example. Roth starts out the Large Finch Family chapter thusly.
"Ay-yi-yi. The Finch family is a mess, as far as backyard birders are concerned. Even taxonomists can’t seem to stop arguing over who belongs where."She then confesses in the second chapter (on small finches) that scientifically speaking, this group of birds isn’t a family but a selection of species from three finch families. She then writes,
"But, hey, there’s method to my madness: the birds share a similar shape and almost identical eating habits."This sort of warm, honest tone is endearing but also gives us plenty of information to chew on.
I give this book two wings up. So do the cat-children, who are constantly fascinated by the range of channels on "bird television."