For the Birds Radio Program: Winter Bird Contest 1989

Original Air Date: Nov. 21, 1989

Today Laura Erickson spells out the rules of this year’s backyard bird contest. (3:53)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

Now that winter is upon us, our third annual “For the Birds” Backyard Bird Contest can’t be far behind. As usual, we will award prizes to entries chosen at random as well as to the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan adults and children who send in the longest lists. We have at least a few listeners from over in Michigan, but so far we’ve never received a single entry from over there. Even one lone House Sparrow from Michigan could earn someone the Grand Prize.

And remember—every single person who sends in a list, no matter how small—automatically wins an official Bird Brain Certificate–something you can’t get any where else in the universe.

All you have to do is keep track of the birds you see in your yard from December first through February 28th, and then send your list to me by March 7. Some people take the time to list the earliest and latest dates that they see each species. This is extremely helpful to me, because I use the information to report what birds overwintered in the Northland to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Not many people report birds from up here. Last year the contest entries provided the only written documentation the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology had that pigeons and House Sparrows spent the entire winter in Superior, so what might seem to you to be a pretty mundane list can still be very important. Even if you don’t keep track of the dates, your list can be a useful contribution to the study of Northland birds, and will give you a really cheap but humorous and even attractive certificate, and a chance for real prizes as well.

If you want to maximize the number of species you see in your yard, your best bet is to set up several bird feeders. Although the standard wooden feeders with glass sides holding the seed in the middle are pretty good, the best way to attract a whole mess of birds is to use platform feeders. They are hard to find in stores but fairly easy to make, since they’re just simple flat trays with sides about an inch deep to keep the seeds from falling out. These feeders require filling more often than the other kinds, and you have to brush off snow whenever it falls, but they bring in Evening Grosbeaks and other good birds much more effectively than other feeders. Sunflower is the best single kind of seed to offer, but cracked corn and mixed grocery store seed are also useful. In a good finch year niger seed brings in a host of redpolls and siskins.

I live at a dead end street where sand and road salt collect. That makes it easy for me to find crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks, which are attracted to both salt and grit. My kids’ sandbox attracts almost as many finches as the feeder, since they need grit to digest their seeds, and a thick snow cover makes natural grit hard to find. Offering water brings in even more birds—I set out a plastic bowl full most mornings. It’s easier to buy a good bird bath heater, but since the most effective kinds cost about $40.00, I stick to my plastic bowls.

Raisins can be useful if you have experienced robins, waxwings, or Pine Grosbeaks, but these birds often don’t notice them. If you have any other suggestions for attracting birds, I’d sure like to share them with our listeners. Write to “For the Birds” in care of this station.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”