‘Speaking of birds …’

Bird talk. It seems to pop up everywhere. As a naturalist, people often come up to me with bird questions, but bird talk is around me even when people don’t know me. People working out at the “Y” talk about the birds coming to their feeders and how they set up their exercise bicycles next to the window so they can watch them. People in checkout lines at the store talk about the hawks coming to their feeders.

Bird talk is everywhere. People call Audubon at least once a week with a bird question. People worry about dead birds, hawks taking their birds and where the birds have disappeared to in the winter.

It warms my heart. Birds are ambassadors from the natural world that cross political and social boundaries. People who feed birds are republicans and democrats, blue collar and white collar, farmers and city dwellers. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, for many people there is an innate interest in the comings and goings of birds and what they are up to.

Birds are easy to love. They are cute, pretty, and you can get them to eat out of your hand. Yes. You can train some birds to eat right out of your hand.

Audubon will be hosting a bird feeding workshop on Saturday, February 16 from 10:00am-12:00pm. To prepare the birds for the workshop, Audubon staff and volunteers have been training the birds to fly down and eat out of their hands.

So far, chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and redpolls have all flown down to eat out of people’s hands. As many as eight redpolls have eaten out of my hands at once, fighting and bickering for position on my arms, head and shoulders.

The workshop will teach people how to train the birds at their feeders to eat out of their hands, make some great bird food, and how to attract and identify birds at your feeder. There will even be simple wooden bird feeders that you can make to take home with you.

This workshop is held in conjunction with a national effort. This weekend, February 15-18, is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Each year, the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology team up to host one of the largest study of birds on the continent. People from all over submit information. In fact, last year over 104,000 people participated, submitting checklists of over 17 million individual birds they saw in their yards. Go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc to find out how to collect information from your yard.

The information collected on this weekend goes far beyond what one scientist or a team of scientists can figure out. Where do robins go in the winter? It turns out that, if you analyze the GBBC information, they go as far south as they need to in order to live where there is five inches of snow or less. This year is showing huge irruptions of Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks and Red-breasted Nuthatches. An irruption is an irregular migration that only happens every few years.

Before the GBBC, it was hard to know where all those birds ended up for the winter. Today, scientists know more about migration, irruptions and birds than they did fifteen years ago before the GBBC started. You can, with little effort, be one of the over 100,000 people who report their information to help scientists better understand birds.

Many birds are slowly disappearing, some by over 70% from when I was a kid. Scientists need the information from your neighborhood to help make sense of why birds are disappearing. It only takes a few minutes a day, and the information you provide helps Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put together a better picture of what is happening with birds across the continent.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Rd., just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and viewing of Liberty, the Bald Eagle, are open from dawn to dusk. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays and Saturdays and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Visit jamestownaudubon.org or call (716) 569-2345 for more information or to sign up for the workshop.

Jeff Tome is Senior Naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary. He has been feeding birds since he was a child and training birds to eat out of his hands for the last five years