One of our peak experiences brought on by nature involves bird watching. Among our very favorites are cardinal birds, pictured left. In the wild, often the most beautiful and most vividly colored birds are males. Scientists hypothesize that their job is to attract predators and lead them away from the nest. The fine fellow on the left is certainly a gorgeous bird.
We see these little dudes every single day outside our kitchen windows because we feed the birds with seeds that we purchase. Anyone can do the same, but please be aware that this isn't a decision to make lightly – at least, not for responsible, wise people. The birds come to depend on our seed supply and it's not to continue once you start feeding them. This is especially true in the cold months because birds make the decision not to migrate because of a plentiful supply of seeds on our back patio. Therefore, if we quit feeding them, they might easily starve to death. If you decide you no longer want to feed birds, wean them off seeds in the spring and summer when food is plentiful. It is just plain heartless to stop in the winter.
What should we feed the birds? It depends on what species we wish to attract. For instance, cardinal birds love sunflower seeds whereas smaller species like chickadees want white millet and other tiny seeds. The Wildlife Urban Research Program of the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a lengthy study and announced that most birds do not like flax or rape seed. You can even repulse certain birds by not offering the seeds they like. For instance, starlings love peanut hearts whereas cowbirds like safflower seeds.
What makes bird watching an even greater peak experience is the uncertainty of what you will attract. One winter, we were delighted when a flock of yellow and blue juncos descended on our yard. They remained for several days and then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, and we never saw them again. According to our bird books, they are quite rare and I have remembered them always with great joy. It might have been a brief acquaintance but it's one I treasure.