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'Purple Finch on Number Four' — How Feeding Birds Became My Passion

Five hanging feeders, one on the ground, and a bird bath with a center waterspout are now all part of my pleasant backyard world

By Linda Goor Nanos

In my twenties, I hitchhiked through Europe and stayed at hostels where I had a morning cocoa before heading out for true adventure. Moving forward five decades, I'm happy as a lark watching the birds at my feeders and sipping my morning coffee.

This evolution led my brother to send me a sign for my desk that reads "One minute you're cool and a bit dangerous, and the next you're shopping for bird seed on the Internet." In a well-lived life, there is a time for every purpose under heaven.

A woman filling a bird feeder with food. Next Avenue
Writer Linda Nanos filling the bird feeders  |  Credit: Linda Nanos

I breathe in the air and experience the season as I tend to the business of feeding the birds.

My introduction to bird feeding was through my parents who were dedicated to their backyard flocks. I teased them for hiring someone to feed wild birds when they went away but they instilled the idea that, once undertaken, feeding them became a commitment. I now have five hanging feeders outside my window and one on the ground. There is a bird bath with a center waterspout that we operate in the warm weather and a basin with a heating element for the winter months.

Maintaining our feeding stations has become a common interest and hobby for my husband and me but it can be a solo effort as well. You may find the birds keep you company. My husband orders the seed in bulk and keeps the bird baths up and running. I'm the one who goes out by 7:00 in the morning to put seed in the feeders. If I am sleeping in, I begin to hear the birds congregating in the tree in my yard, no need for an alarm clock, it motivates me to get out the door. 

A Meditative Time

This is one of the most meditative times of my day. It's quiet in the early morning hours on the canal where I live, and at times, the moon is still showing. I breathe in the air and experience the season as I tend to the business of feeding the birds. Bird watching is the primary interaction with nature that I have on a daily basis. It puts me in the right frame of mind before I head to an office to work where I won't have any contact with the outdoors for the rest of the day.

Being located on the water attracts a large variety of birds that live in the nearby wetlands. For all my parents' commitment to their bird feeding, they lamented that all they ever got were very common birds, mostly sparrows and an occasional blue jay. I don't have the same lament. There are flocks of wild, green parrots (species Monk Parakeets) that over-winter in the huge stadium lights at a park around the corner. We have red-wing blackbirds that live in the marsh, cardinals, blue jays and purple finch that are anything but common.

The seed we choose is a wild bird mix. We supplement it with cracked corn on the ground. The consistency of the feedings brings the birds back, and yes, I hire someone to feed them when we are away. I have a bird identifier field manual that I keep close to my breakfast table. It can be challenging identifying a new bird because males, females and juveniles can have different appearances. In the temperate zone where I live, there are migrations in the spring and fall and we welcome back some species when the season is right.

The consistency of the feedings brings the birds back, and yes, I hire someone to feed them when we are away.

I once looked up where the snowbirds (juncos) go when it isn't snowing, because we only see them when there is snow on the ground. I learned they prefer plants over seeds and will only come looking for seeds when they can't feed on their vegetation. Our feeding station is their last choice. Identifying and reading about the birds keeps my mind active.

We have one bird, the brown-headed cowbird, that is classified as a brood parasite. The parent lays its eggs in another bird's nest and abandons them for the other bird to raise, often at the expense of the well-being of the other hatchlings. We can't impose our moral code to judge them, they have no concept that there is anything wrong with what they are doing. One cowbird followed my husband around the yard, and we wondered if it was thinking he might be his long-lost parent.


A Commitment to the Hobby

Not all the visitors to our feeding station are welcome. We have hawks in the area that occasionally swoop in to catch their own preferred breakfast. As disturbing as that can be, I rationalize that they too have to eat and feed their fledglings. The one fowl we won't tolerate is the geese. We will run after them and let our dog out to chase them away because nothing messes the yard like a gaggle of geese.

A large hawk looking into a yard. Next Avenue
"Our nemesis, the hawk."  |  Credit: Linda Nanos

My husband and I share this hobby and have our own code. We number the feeders so we can alert each other to "a purple finch on number four." Our son and daughter sometimes share sightings from their own homes and send us pictures of unusual birds they saw, often asking me for an identification. In this way, it has become a family affair.

If your family isn't interested in following the birds with you, there are plenty of bird enthusiast groups that you can find who will gladly talk about birds with you.

This hobby requires commitment to both the feeding and the clean-up. I have to sweep up bird seed and hose down the patio blocks. The bird bath has to be kept fresh and the feeders need to be washed on a regular basis for the safety of the birds. Yard furniture must be wiped before we can use it. The seed is expensive. I've cut back the amount I put in each feeder so that the birds arrive for breakfast, and within two hours, it's time for them to move on to another spot.  

If your yard isn't conducive to feeding or you don't want to make the commitment, you can join groups that go on bird watching outings. For me, it's worth it and I'm content to have the birdwatching at my backdoor.

Linda Goor Nanos
Linda Goor Nanos is a practicing attorney, author, wife, mother and grandmother. Her writing credits include a memoir "Forty Years of PMS," professional articles and published essays on life lessons. Read More
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