Learning Opportunity In Your Backyard
As much as humans express our discontent with the dark and cold (and resulting feelings of isolation) that winter brings, the cold months bring far more challenges for wildlife than they do for humans. While animal adaptations help them cope with the difficulties that New England’s winter weather brings, surviving the coldest and snowiest time of the year is not without struggle. For birds in particular, February is the hardest time of year. Food is at its most scarce, making it tough for feathered creatures to stay full and warm until springtime comes.
In response to the challenges that late winter brings for birds, February has been designated National Bird-Feeding Month. Designated as such in 1994, National Bird Feeding Month helps not only to provide birds with food sources, but also supports community- and place-based learning about local species and the environment… Families can learn together about what to feed (and how to offer it – birds are very particular!) and why based on the species found right in your own backyard! Offering a wide variety of foods is the best way to attract many species. A truly diverse food offering will include everything from bread and seed tossed on the ground to thistle and suet feeders (birds most enjoy deer suet, if you can find it!).
In addition to feeding birds, families can also channel avian enthusiasm and learning into citizen science. The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which utilizes the skills of citizen scientists to gather data for Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, takes place from February 13-16th, 2015. The project, which has taken place annually since 1998, engages thousands of people worldwide to gather information about species populations and habitat. Families can participate by committing to count birds for at least 15 minutes on at least one of the days of the event. Participants must keep track not only of what they’ve seen, but where they’ve seen it and when. Then, after counting, families can submit their data electronically in order for it to become not only useful for researchers, but part of a global database that be used for web-based learning about bird populations and habitat.
Amateur birders can, of course, use field guides to identify the species that they spot nearby, but Mass Audubon’s Fall and Winter Birds page offers photos and descriptions of the bird species found in the state during these two seasons, and their Tips for Identifying Winter Bird Species offers suggestions for ways to differentiate between similar-looking species, helping bird watchers more accurately identify the feathered friends they spot.
[Photo credit: (cc) Jamie McCaffrey]