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A lively natural habitat includes birds

Feathered friends need food help in winter

A pair of lesser goldfinches dine at a mixed-seed feeder. Birds need more energy in winter to survive the cold.

A pair of lesser goldfinches dine at a mixed-seed feeder. Birds need more energy in winter to survive the cold. Kathy Morrison

Gardening is turning me into a birdwatcher.

In the 10 days since I hung my new bird feeder in the backyard, I’ve identified an oak titmouse or two, several dark-eyed juncos, some lesser goldfinches, the punk-looking white-crowned sparrow, one gold-crowned sparrow and some house finches, looking so festive with their reddish feathers.

These have joined the neighborhood regulars: the scrub jays, mourning doves, Bewick’s wrens and hummingbirds that frequent our trees and shrubs. I also have heard the northern mockingbird pretty often, but haven’t had a visual identification.

I’m thrilled to see all these little birds enjoying their seeds and exhibiting bits of personality, too.The juncos are the earliest risers, hopping around on the ground and in containers of the potted roses. Then finches and sparrows arrive at the feeder in bunches, the goldfinches shoving each other out of the way to get to the mixed seed selection. The small cherry tree nearby has become the birds’ waiting area, so I hung a bell-shaped seed cake there to augment the offerings – though it might not survive long against the neighborhood squirrels. (The feeder is on a hook the squirrels can’t reach.)

Winter can be a tough time for resident birds, since insects are dormant and many plants are, too. They also need more energy to stay warm. I’ve been working to make the garden more friendly to all natives – insects and other pollinators as well as birds: planting more natives, eliminating the back lawn, keeping some of the ground bare, letting leaves lie where they fall, and avoiding use of pesticides and herbicides. (A gentleman who came to repair the back fence called my garden “a mess,” but what does he know? It’s living and lively.) And now the bird feeder is open for winter business.

These sustainability practices, I discovered to my delight, are not only great for the natural environment, they also make my yard eligible to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat. I have a little more work to do but am looking forward to the day I can display the sign from the National Wildlife Federation. That will be a gift for all of us.

By the way, the Audubon Society has this list of ways to make your home more bird-friendly.

And if you’d like help identifying birds in your yard, I can recommend the Sacramento Audubon Society’s online list of Sacramento area birds as well as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app. Merlin allows you to record on your phone the call or song of a bird you can’t see – which is how I got the northern mockingbird identified. I’m still a beginner in this area, but it is great fun.

P.S. Mark your calendar for the Great Backyard Bird Count, coming up Feb. 17-20, 2023.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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