focusing on birds (and win a sibley guide)

THINK BIRDS! I’m reminded of that by the imminent start of the annual Project FeederWatch on Saturday (November 10), and also by a certain pair of sparrows nibbling at the fallen seeds in the cracks between my patio stones lately. I’m not so good with sparrows—like many of the gray and yellowish warblers, they often look alike to me, unless I really concentrate—but when I saw them again today I told myself: This will be the year I get the local sparrows straight. “The Sibley Guide to Birds” helped me ID my visitors, and got me thinking: maybe you’d like a copy of the book, too (or another Sibley guide if you have this one)? The latest giveaway.

My visitors are white throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, distinctive for their (surprise!) white throats and clean, crisp markings around the face. All I had to do was really look instead of saying to myself just “sparrow” and failing to take the time—in this case through a pair of binoculars–and then do a little reading in the Sibley book and online as well, because part of what had confused me was how some among them were differently marked than others, sort of same-but-different.

Apparently it’s just the normal variation in the species, which has two distinct “morphs.” Or so says the website of David Sibley, whose “The Sibley Guide to Birds” you can win by following the details in the box at the bottom of this story.

Among other sparrow-ID tips, this page on keeping the chipping sparrow and American tree sparrow straight might also help, or search All About Birds (from Cornell) for all the sparrow portraits.

learning about birds: some resources

BUT BEFORE YOU ENTER the giveaway, some other ways to connect and learn about all birds, and especially those most familiar ones, those who stay behind year-round (or arrive in time from somewhere less favorable) to settle in and spend the winter with us:

how to win the sibley guide

TO ENTER TO WIN a copy of “The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Allen Sibley (or your choice of a Sibley guide if you already have this one), all you have to do is this:

Comment below by telling us whether you feed birds in winter, year round, or not at all, and what species is your favorite to watch (or any other highlight you wish to share about birds in your garden).

I feed year-round—more feeders in winter, and just one small one in spring through early fall (yes, risking a visit by bear, I know).  I feed sunflower seed and in the cold months big blocks of beef suet from the butcher shop. I provide unfrozen water year-round (those are waxwings at my frog pond in snow in the above photo)—and most of all, the garden, which is loaded with bird-friendly plants year-round, and in which I use no chemicals of any kind. As far as favorites? I am crazy about woodpeckers.

What about you? (Feeling shy, and don’t want to say? You can simply say, “Count me in,” and I will—but if you have something to share, all the better.)

I’ll choose one winner at random after entries close at midnight Wednesday, November 14. Good luck to all!

November 7, 2012


  1. Angie says

    I feed the birds in the winter and early spring but during the summer and fall they have coneflowers, sunflowers, cosmos and other plants to eat from. I like the wrens the best.

  2. Kat says

    I put out feeders in the winter, once it becomes trickier for birds to find their own food out in the wild. For suet, I like to make my own. That way I can mix in a variety of seeds, dried fruit and dried insects. YUM! (At least the birds think so.)

    Beware of putting feeders out all year round and filling them up every day. A feeding ground for songbirds often becomes a feeding ground for hawks and other birds of prey as well. If you don’t want to watch the songbirds get picked off one by one, try filling up the feeder every few days to once a week instead or only fill the feeders when it is really necessary for the birds, like in winter.

  3. Nancy Chapman says

    Yes, we feed the birds year around. Yesterday I heard the first of the Harris Sparrows singing in the hedge rows of the woods and fields. They haven’t come to the feeders yet this fall. I’ve started picking up fallen bird’s nests from under the walnut grove.
    I would like to be able to identify them. We live on a farmstead surrounded by big fields of corn and soybeans so the birds welcome our oasis.

  4. Julie says

    I see many woodpeckers in the woods around my home that are amazing. However, I am delighted by all kinds of birds. -Julie

  5. Julie says

    We feed all year long…love watching the Downy Woodpeckers, Pilated Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, but, love the most watching the Bluebirds making their nests in the Spring!

  6. Kathy says

    I do feed birds year round. Sometimes there will be one or two different species passing through at migration, usually the food is eaten by wrens, swallows, finches
    blackbirds, etc. I will get an occasional bluejay but my favorite to watch for and to feed are the cardinals. I throw peanuts out most mornings and if I forget or am late I can hear a cardinal calling impatiently. How do I surmise they are calling to me? As soon
    as I put the peanuts out and he has one he stops calling for that day. I would really enjoy having the book to learn about and i d birds.

  7. Karen P. says

    I’m amazed by the variety of birds at my house in Columbia County….and I’m not familiar with most of them. I’ve had Sibley’s on my to- buy list,so fingers crossed!

  8. Kelli Page says

    I feed year round. Some of the feeders have just the black oil sunflower seed and two other feeders are dedicated to shelled sunflower seed. I love watching the birds. When I can I try to learn how to identify bird species from watching and listening to their calls. I know when the Cardinals are around, even when I’m visiting my girlfriend In Millerton, New York. Sitting out on her back deck, I could hear the Cardinals, but we could not see them. Next year I will add a hummingbird feeder and also plant the Cardinal vine as well. Thanks!

  9. Linda says

    I feed birds all year. Love all the woodpeckers at the suet feeders. Hummingbirds are the favorite in the summer. I have 8 feeders and it is a job to keep them filled every other day. It’s amazing how many birds come to the feeders. So much fun to watch!

  10. Babci201 says

    We keep a feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds and hang a suet block off it year round as well. There’s plenty of activity throughout the day; so much so that the feeder must be refilled and a new suet block hung every other day. Visitors are of every stripe — from all sizes of woodpeckers to nuthatches and even the ground feeders like cardinals manage to perch and eat. Friends invariably head for the window to see what is feeding when they visit. Non-stop pleasure!!!

  11. Wendy says

    Much to my husband’s chagrin, I use nature’s birdfeeders as much as possible. I leave dead trees, asters, goldenrod, milkweed, and all types of “weeds” standing through the winter. Feathered friends that don’t migrate reward me daily with their visits. A splash of cardinal red or chickadee antics brighten my day. It’s part of a sustainable system and there’s less yard work to do!

  12. Charlee says

    I feed chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinch, woodpeckers, cardinals, bluejays, mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, squirrels & chipmunks, and provide water for them

  13. Rich says

    There is a pine tree in our yard that we refer to as the bird condo. Chickidees live there and greet me each morning as I go out to remind me to put out birdseedl. Chirp, chirp, chirp — give me my breakfast. We used to put it in a bird feeder but that became a bear magnet so we now just put some seed on the deck rail. We have a number of chipmunks and a squirrel who are like vacuum cleaners for birdseed but we let them have a share too. We also get cardinals and bluejays and juncos, oh my.

  14. Karen says

    I plan and plant for the birds but I live in an urban area where birdseed attracts rodents so I never put out feeders. One of my favorite summertime activities is watching the goldfinches hanging off the sunflower heads and picking out the seeds!

  15. benjia morgenstern says

    I am a “snowbird”…When I pack it in in CT. and depart for Miami ( where they are still counting The Election Votes!), I leave behind my beauty berry bush and most of the seed pods of my perennials for the birds that criss cross my property in Winter.
    Who they are..I know not.

  16. Karen says

    I feed the birds all year…more so in the winter. I love to see all of the different woodpeckers that come to the suet, but one of my favorite birds is the nuthatch. Watching as they walk down the side of a tree is the best.

  17. says

    I feed the birds year round and have been a part of project feeder watch for five years. I still skip a beat at the sight of a male red cardinal in a snowy landscape. Somehow cardinals escape me – even in the middle of Maine it took a few years to see one regularly at my feeders. The more I plant and expand my garden here, the more frequent their visits. I was just blessed with a visit from migrating evening grosbeaks – truly a sight! Chickadees always capture my attention. I put out black oil sunflower seed, suet, and peanuts to the blue jays. We have a little game in the summer where I hide the peanuts throughout the garden then sit back and watch the jays find each and every one! Now that’s entertainment.

  18. Dona Eberhardt says

    We feed the birds year round. Among my favorites are the yellow finches and the humming birds in the summer. I have chickadees,cardinals and woodpeckers visiting the feeders year round. Here in Wisconsin where the winters are so long the birds birds brigthen our day.

  19. Marge says

    Over that last few years our bluebird houses have added many bluebirds to the population. It is so much fun to see the couple find the house and then see the eggs, followed by little baby bluebirds. We feel as if they are part of our family. Now we even see them in the winter, here in the beautiful mid-Hudson Valley of NY. We put out feeders only once the flowers are gone in the fall and enjoy watching all kinds of birds feeding at the feeders.

  20. says

    I currently feed only in the non winter months but I may change that this year. My favorite birds to watch are cardinals but really I just like watching all birds. I started keeping track this year of all the birds at our feeder.

  21. Michelle says

    We have lots of wild turkeys and, like Ben Franklin, I’m coming to appreciate them. They are way smart and, at times, almost giddy. Conversely, my new favorite bird is the turkey buzzard or turkey vulture. They are so ungainly and ugly sitting massed in a bare tree but when they are in flight, they are beautiful, both their underneath wing pattern and the enviable way they can soar for very long periods of time without ever having to flap their wings.

  22. Kristin McNamara Freeman says

    I successfully fed a host of finches, sparrows, chickadees, robins, tanagers, pine siskins and flickers this spring and summer and in the fall the seed eaters thoroughly enjoyed the end of my summer flowers. Now I am putting together the winter feeding system. I have successfully added red pepper to my bird feeders…birds do not seems to mind and the red squirrels definitely stay away from pepper.
    I would be over the moon to win a bird guide!

  23. Linda B Secrist says

    i feed all year with feeders and plants. Right now they are finishing off the sunflowers and coneflowers. My yard cats are no threat to them to the point of watching the blue jays enjoy the bowl of cat chow. Love the woodpeckers

  24. Glenda says

    I feed birds year round and have a large yard with very old trees, both deciduous and evergreen. I also have a garden planted with a variety of shrubs and vines. As a result of this environment, I have many varieties of birds. Late this summer I had a pair of quail visit for a week, and saw a Cooper’s Hawk at my birdbath twice. Many Northern Cardinals have made my property their home, and I realize my many bird residents have enriched my life tremendously.

  25. says

    I feed by handfuls in the summer. I put up my feeders yesterday for the winter and within an hour this morning chickadees, titmice, a pair of cardinals, downy & red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatch had all arrived. I watched the blue jay pick up peanuts from the ground, go behind the rhododendron and bury them, craftily hiding the hole by placing a leaf on top. A blue jay has trained me to open my studio window and place peanuts on the sill. He/she taps on the window loudly…and I dutifully respond.

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