Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Free and Very Inexpensive Gifts for Bird Lovers

My little chickadee posing

America’s season of gift-giving seems to grow increasingly materialistic, but this year, thanks to the pandemic, more and more Americans have much less to spend, barely getting by on smaller incomes than usual or are out of jobs entirely, so many people are seriously cutting back on present buying. This week I’ll be focusing on holiday gift ideas for bird lovers. Today I’ll start out with things that are absolutely free or as close to free as possible.  

My personal friendly Blue Jay

If you know a bird lover stuck in a hospital or nursing home right now, photos of beautiful birds, especially ones they personally know and love, can brighten their days at least a little. If you want to give someone bird art and you already have a computer and a reasonably good printer, for the cost of paper and ink, you can print out bird photos from my website. Most are not magazine quality, but some actually are. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at bee balm

If you don’t have a good printer, you can put any of my photos on a thumb drive and take it to one of the many stores that make prints. My photos are all copyrighted, but I herewith grant permission to radio and podcast listeners and readers of my blog to print them for personal use or gifts that will be for personal use. 

Pileated Woodpecker close-up

To find photos of the species you want, go to the top right of this blog page (or the top of any page on my website), click the “Search Birds” button, and enter the species you hope to find photos of. That will take you to my species page, which shows a dozen or so photos I’ve taken—usually the most recent. Click on the “More Photos (see all)” button and it’ll link to all the photos of that species that I’ve entered into Flickr. I disabled Flickr’s “download” long ago, but if you click on the download arrow in the bottom right, it will give you the option to “view all sizes.” After you click on that, select the largest size offered to get the highest quality print. Some photos are huge—some more than 5,000 pixels wide. Right click on the photo and you should have the option to save it to your computer. You have my permission to print for personal use or personal gifts as many as you like.

Atlantic Puffin 

Piping Plover

Least Tern

When I spent time in the hospital in recent years, I loved putting on headphones and listening to bird songs, both to block out all the hospital noises and to escape to lovelier settings. Except for snowmobiles and the roaring wind during winter storms, we’re into the quietest time of year outside, right when we need balm for the soul more than ever, and for me and many other birders, sounds are even more evocative than photos. 

Each species page on my website links to any bird song recording(s) I've made that feature that species, some fairly good. And my ambient bird sound page has lots of longer recordings—some are really nice. I made one that lasts more than an hour and a half at nighttime in Panama when I was there in 2019. The howler monkeys are far enough away to not be jarring, and it’s a pleasing background when you’re focused on something or just trying to fall asleep while your hospital roommate is watching television or chatting loudly on the phone. 

Many of the recordings are short—a couple of the shortest ambient recordings I provide on the ambient bird sound page are a 2-minute Greater Prairie-Chicken lek (from Minnesota) and 2-minute Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek (from Colorado), but some of my older ones are longer than a half hour, and some of the best ones I made this year last 2 and even 3 hours. All my recordings are downloadable for free, and can then be added to your own music playlist software or can be recorded on a CD for shut-ins with a boombox or other player. Again, they're all copyrighted and may not be used for commercial purposes without permission, but I herewith grant permission for people to download and copy on CD or electronically any of my recordings for personal use or personal gifts. 

Pileated Woodpecker

To encourage bird visits to benefit both hungry birds and people hungry to see them, you can make a simple peanut butter feeder by drilling holes into a thick branch about a foot or so long and screwing a hook into one end. Above is a photo of one my father-in-law made me long ago. 

Pine cone feeders are another great way of providing peanut butter to smaller birds—just smear a lot of peanut butter into the spaces in an open cone and hang it in a tree. That's a time-honored project to do with children, and much better for birds than anything with popcorn. (NEVER use microwave popcorn for birds!) If you want to really simplify, just scrape peanut butter right on a tree trunk. Best to do it in the same place from day to day. Squirrels love it, but so do chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, including Pileateds. The few times I’ve had a Boreal Chickadee or two in my yard over the years, it’s been at my peanut butter but no other feeders. At the Sax-Zim Bog, Boreal Chickadees are always most easily seen at peanut butter feeders. 

Boreal Chickadee

I use whatever popular brand of chunky peanut butter is on sale. I never buy "natural" varieties—the oils separate too easily. And NEVER feed birds peanut butter with any artificial sweeteners. In recent years, some generic and cheap brands have been adding Xylitol, which may be fine for humans but is lethal for dogs. I don’t know that it’s been tested on any birds, so no way am I risking my chickadees to find out for sure whether it’s safe. And even ostensibly safe artificial sweeteners have absolutely no nourishment. The calories in table sugar and even corn syrup give birds energy, which they especially need in cold weather. 

Common Redpoll

I don’t use heated bird baths, though many of my friends swear by them and I’ve gotten lots of excellent bird photos in winter in backyards that do have heated bird baths. The contribution of burning fossil fuels to climate change is not worth it for me, but I can’t argue with the success many people have with heated bird baths. On relatively balmy days—say, in the upper 20s or above—I do set a plastic cereal bowl filled with water on my platform feeder, and the birds definitely enjoy that. No cost to me at all, and lots of pleasure for my birds. In a year like this, that's a definite win-win. 

Boreal Owl

Barred Owl

Great Gray Owl

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