Do You Whistle At Your Birds?

It’s six-o’clock and I hear a rattling sound outside my kitchen window. Nerve impulse from ear to brain make an instant identity match with the Baltimore oriole.

He’s announced his arrival at my nectar feeder, giving a few clear notes of his whistle song before taking a long drink and departing.

I do a little victory dance.

Was it the bright orange feeder that brought him? Or the presence of American elm trees in my older suburban neighborhood? Maybe it’s the creek nearby.

Quite frankly I think it was the warrn welcome I offered him as I whistled back to his early morning songs while making large sweeping hand motions in the direction of my yard, “the feeder is over here.” (O.K. So I lied and told the neighbor who was watching me I was practicing Ti Chi movements.)

Most likely it is a combination of all of these elements that attracted this bird as well as others to my yard. Feeders are basic to my backyard birdscape equation, along with my many birdbrainy behaviors. I can share these openly with fellow Society members because I know I have a sympathetic audience.

The Society fills an important niche in sharing both an appreciation for birds and the encouragement to conserve habitat in the re-creation of natural spaces in our own backyards. As we become more urbanized, these tiny oases will play an important role in offering save havens for birds.

Further, these spaces are a means for us to maintain a spiritual base to our natural roots. This is, in my opinion, the more critical reason why people feed birds.

Creating habitat requires four basic elements: food, either by way of feeders, fruit bearing trees and shrubs, or flowers that attract a variety of insects; water; a place to take cover from the elements or predators, and a place to raise young.

Lawns, which tend to be monocultures, are costly to keep up and not practical in arid areas. Native plants are more resilient to drought and weather. They also can require less maintenance than ornamental plants. You need not convert your yard into “Wild Kingdom” to see results. Keeping the four basic elements in your overall plan is the key to attracting birds and wildlife to your yard.

Birds are the stuff of poet and painter. With their colors, songs and intricate displays, they appeal to our senses and imaginations. Take, for example, the American goldfinch in his yellow and black “knock-your-socks off” coloration. It’s hard to believe that his roller coaster “flight song” whimsically performed as he sails off your tube feeder and into a vivid blue sky isn’t directed at the one who fills the feeder. Blue sky? What of that bird whose translucent feathers bring the very sky within our grasp? To see a bluebird, particularly on a drab cloudy day, oh, how it shows like a swatch of rare cloth in the breast pocket of a conservative suit. Picasso never had a blue period piece like this one.

Summer is a special time, notably for those in northern climes who get a short and intimate glimpse of birds doing more than eating and keeping warm. Their lives are played out on a feeder ledge, like tiny actors on a stage. We learn to recognize them, marvel at them, applaud them, make them part of our yard. They help us to see our yard as a habitat, complete with food, water, cover and nesting. This reminds us on a micro scale of what conservation is all about. Most importantly they help us connect. If I understand my Eastern thought, Chi is about channeling positive energy. My oriole just stopped back at the feeder. That’s enough Chi for me.

Louise is a writer, a naturalist and runs a nature consulting and birdscaping business, Avian Brain.

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