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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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