For the Birds Radio Program: Planning New Years Resolutions

Original Air Date: Nov. 29, 2003 (estimated date)

Laura’s already planning her 2004 New Years resolutions, to help birds.

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It’s that time of year when we resolve to improve ourselves and our lives. This year I’m making my New Year’s resolutions to improve the lives of my backyard birds.

1) Provide a variety of nutritious feeder fare. Sunflower seeds, suet, white millet, niger (thistle) seed, peanut butter, and mealworms are all good winter offerings.

2) Keep feeders meticulously clean. Come spring, make sure bird baths are cleaned out every two or three days so mosquito larvae can’t hatch.

3) Plant some more native plants that will provide food, cover, and nesting places for local birds and food and cover for migrants passing through. Carrol Henderson’s “Landscaping for Wildlife” gives lots of suggestions.

4) In spring and early summer, remember to set out clumps of dog and cat fur in clean suet cages after I brush my pets. It’s natural fiber, great for lining nests.

5) Take walks through the neighborhood periodically looking for outdoor cats. If someone is letting a cat play outdoors, write a tactful note pointing out where nearby toddlers have sandboxes (and that cats using sandboxes as litter boxes spread toxoplasmosis), that the local fox population is growing again–fed in part by outdoor cats, that the local cardinal population has surged since Duluth passed our cat leash ordinance, and that it is, indeed, illegal to let cats wander without a leash in Duluth. I’d really hate to be the one to bring such a nice cat to the animal shelter, but my chickadees are at stake.

6) Drink shade-grown coffee only. Most coffee grown in Central and South America comes from coffee plantations. These monocultures, which are typically maintained with high pesticide use, supplant natural tropical habitats necessary for both tropical birds and neotropical migrants. Shade-grown coffee is grown within natural habitat, with only minimal disturbance, and hardly ever requires pesticide use. It costs more, but a much higher percentage of the price goes to farmers rather than corporate plantation owners and brokers. And as luck has it, shade-grown coffee tastes better, too.

7) Write at least one letter a month to state or national officials regarding issues of importance to birds. A lot of basic information about current state and national legislation can be found at the website of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership at

8) Be an ambassador for birds. Do what I can to make my friends, relatives, acquaintances, and even strangers appreciate and be more aware of birds. Wear my binoculars whenever I stop at a restaurant while birding, and mention to the waitress any cool birds I’ve seen in the area. (This has the added bonus that many times the waitress will tell me about a cool bird in the area that I hadn’t known about.)

9) Buy a duck stamp to support the National Wildlife Refuge system. Make sure to display it conspicuously, and also to write at least one letter to the editor telling how important it is for both hunters and non-hunters to support habitat acquisition and protection. It’s also important for non-hunters to make sure to sign guest books at refuges, and to let politicians and the general public know that hunters aren’t the only ones with a stake in habitat, or the only ones willing to pay money to support habitat.

10) Keep track of backyard birds, and report to MOU unusual species and unusual dates for any species. Keep better track of the number of individuals of each species. In Ohio and other areas that have been hard-hit by West Nile Virus, chickadee and crow numbers have plummeted dramatically. But unless there is a long-term body of data, declines of any species are hard to document.

11) Donate to Minnesota’s “chickadee checkoff,” donating part of my tax refund (or writing a bigger check if I owe money) to help support our DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program.

12) Pay closer attention to all my backyard birds, from warbler flocks that pass through during migration to everyday feeder birds. Even a starling can teach some interesting lessons about behavior, physical adaptations, and mimicry. And what can bring more entertainment and joy to our daily lives than a chickadee?