A Naturalist Voice

Entertainment can be cheap, because “cheep factor” is a lot of fun

Field notes by J. Cantrell, photos courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation

December may bring frigid weather along with the first significant snowfalls. We need to be prepared for some blustery days when we simply choose to stay home all day long. Lots of changes are in the air. The last month of the year is the time to throw a blanket on the sofa and seek some leisure time. This is a nice occasion to rearrange the furniture in the den or family room to shore up holiday décor. And lastly, nature lovers often position a birdfeeder or two where they may be framed by the prominent window and easily viewed. Just as children may be mesmerized by an aquarium, family members find the feathered traffic, twittering and cheeping commotion charming.

Money may be a little stretched in the season of frequently eating holiday meals out, gift purchases and travels, so bird-feeding basics are penny wise for entertainment. If you are on a budget, just use one type of birdseed for the hobby, the black oil sunflower. The sunflower seeds will attract the largest variety of seed-eating birds in our area. A bird-feeding basic to attract many types of birds will not be adding a variety of food, but offering seed by an assortment of perches and platforms.

Hanging-tube feeders are equipped with small pegs at the feeding ports; they cater to smaller birds and exclude blue jays, doves and blackbirds. Hopper-type feeders hold bulk seed and have a bar-like perch perfect for cardinals and little songbirds. Tray feeders are a favorite of mine because birds may fly in from all directions. Tray feeders allow the feasting birds to align themselves along the frame or eat and walk around on the platform itself. The drawback is they only hold a couple of handfuls of black oil sunflower seed daily. Lastly, one of the best bird feeders is using no structure at all. A cupful of seed thrown on the ground at the base of some shrubby cover will be a magnet for juncos, towhees, dove and white-crowned sparrows. Many of our winter resident songbirds prefer feeding on the soil among the leaf litter. Some seem to tenderly browse, while others hop and scratch for the fare. All these antics just add to the amazing wildlife viewing.

Christmastime is near. Naturally, a birdfeeder is a suitable gift to place on your own wish list, or consider giving one to someone else. This month, the calendar of events in our local area should abound with craft shows, and fundraisers for schools and scouts. I would suggest supporting local craftsmen and scouts first when looking for hopper or tray feeders. The “friends” supported, non-profit gift shops at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery and G.W. Carver National Monument will carry bird field guides to accompany the intended birdwatcher. They also carry the much-loved Missouri Department of Conservation’s 2019 Natural Events calendar. So, this month, make your home cozy inside for you and outside for the feathered neighbors. Mark the days on your MDC calendar, for every moment in nature is a marvel and easily a “cheep” experience.

Enjoy and love the holidays. Merry Christmas – Jeff

Jeff Cantrell is a conservationist, outdoor educator out of the Neosho MDC Office serving Southwest Missouri.