Review: Winter is for the Birds, Literally

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Reviews by Patricia Richwine, Ph.D.

As we, optimistically, raked the last leaves from our yard and started to prepare for winter, we brought the wrought iron plant hanger, which had until just recently held a flowering basket, closer to the house where we could hang our feeder and watch an assortment of birds that live in or near our back yard in the winter.  Almost immediately the birds returned.  A little hesitant at first but then with more confidence they came.  The mourning doves, among the ground feeders, were not even frightened away by a couple of pesky squirrels.  I keep a pair of binoculars by the kitchen window for, if you will, a birds-eye view of the feeder and of all the species it attracts.

As usual, I wondered just what kinds of birds there were flying back and forth in a feeding frenzy several times a day.  That led me to a few new field guides and bird books, written for children or other beginning ornithologists.  Perhaps you’ll want to add these to your collection or at least place one by the binoculars at your kitchen window.

classifyingbirdsbookClassifying Birds
By Andrew Solway
Heinemann Library, Chicago, 2003,
32 pp.
ISBN  1-4034-0844-0

Part of a series of books on classifying living things, this text offers a simple yet scientific look at the class, order, family, genus, and species of birds within the animal kingdom.  In short two-page sections with many colorful photographs,  illustrations, and text boxes the author introduces everything from prehistoric birds to parrots and pigeons. There is a section devoted solely to feathers and another on flying. Bold print highlights some important words that can be found in the glossary.
Within each section there are tidbits of information such as “A female will mate with the male whose nest she likes best.” (p. 13) and “More people in New Guinea are killed by cassowaries (nearly as big as ostriches) than by any other wild animal.” (p. 14).
I recommend this and other books like it for basic knowledge that can provide a framework for learning about specific birds that may live in our yards, our neighborhood, our state, or our region.  Books in this series on living things offer a reliable reference source for beginning researchers as well.

watchingourfeatheredfriendsWatching Our Feathered Friends
By Dean T. Spaulding
Lerner Publications Co. Minneapolis MN, 1997, 56 pp.
ISBN 0-8225-3177-1

WOW!  “In the United States, people spend about $5 billion a year on birdseed, birding trips, and birding equipment.” (p.7) states Spaulding, the author, environmental journalist, and wildlife photographer.  However, he adds that most people watch birds for fun and this book is just right for beginning birders.
Activities provided to help practice bird watching skills include learning the optimum time to birdwatch: mornings, near the end of the day, or for nocturnal birds like owls, at night. Also where to see birds in their natural habitats and how to identify birds with directions on how to utilize field guides.  Practical guidelines for shopping and care of binoculars and scopes as well as for what to wear to go birding are given.
Specialized ways of birding are explained and include moon birding, for night owls, and bird listing, for those who like record keeping, data collection, and journaling.  Projects that are described include creating a bird feeder, a birdhouse, and an observation blind.
Spaulding gives credit to famous birders through biographical sketches of John James Audubon for which George Bird Grinnell named the Audubon Society and Roger Troy Peterson of the famous field guide collection.
The glossary, chapter titles, and headings make this text easy to use for beginning birders of all ages.

feedingourfeatheredfriendsFeeding Our Feathered Friends
By Andrew Solway
Lerner Publications Co. Minneapolis MN, 1997, 56 pp.
ISBN 0-8225-3175-5

“Did you know that one in every four homes in the United States has a bird feeder?” (p. 8).  Feeding Our Feathered Friends, a companion to Watching Our Feathered Friends, provides directions for making more than a dozen feeders from household items such as egg cartons, old shirts, tennis balls, socks, forks, and much more.  None of the feeders are made from Styrofoam and, as a lesson on recycling, the author includes an explanation of the effects Styrofoam has on the environment.
Of the three levels of difficulty, the easiest bird feeders require no adult supervision and take only about five minutes to make.  Most of the feeders are designed to contain seeds but some will hold fruit and other leftovers such as bagels and stale bread.  Suggestions for the best place and time to hang feeders are included.
What birds eat depends partially on the shape and strength of their beaks or bills.  A variety of seeds, described by the author, will attract a variety of birds. It is important to keep feeders filled.  “To survive the winter, small birds such as black-capped chickadees must eat their body weight in food each day.” (p.14). Spaulding offers a simple sprouting test that can be done to assure that your birdseed is fresh.  No feeding book would be complete without tips for keeping those pesky squirrels away and directions for making a squirrel baffle are a welcome addition to this book, as are the bird savers to keep birds from flying into windows.

firstfieldguidebirdsNational Audubon Society First Field Guide BIRDS
Scholastic, New York, 1998, 160 pp.
ISBN 0-590-05482-1 (PB)
ISBN 0-590-05446-5 (HC)

From this field guide, I’ve just learned that what I originally called “Morning doves” in the introduction to these reviews should be “Mourning doves” because of their mournful call.  So, the introduction and I have been corrected.  The First Field Guide from the National Audubon Society is a treasure of photos and information.  It contains detailed information about 50 North American birds, 150 additional species, and a pictorial directory of the 50 state birds. I was surprised to learn that several states have the same bird.  The Western Meadowlark is the state bird of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.
Although this text is called a field guide, the true field guide is just one of four sections of the book.  The first section, “The World of Birds,” contains some of the basic scientific information also found in Classifying Birds by Solway.  The next section, “How to Look at Birds,” directs the beginning birder to clues or field marks that are used to identify birds.  The third section of the book is the actual field guide consisting of 2-page spreads with beautiful color illustrations and lots of information on each of 50 birds and their related species.  The final section in the book contains references including a glossary, an index, and a listing of other print and media resources.
The National Audubon Society First Field Guide; Birds is an essential and valuable resource for beginning ornithologists of all ages. It makes a good companion on a birding walk or next to the binoculars at your kitchen window.

Pat Richwine is an Assistant Professor at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey.  She is interested in integrating children’s literature with other content areas.

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