I enjoy looking after the birds out back. I even passively look out for birds out front, it seems, as the Virginia creeper produced berries that the starlings raided one day, but enough remain that the house sparrows come and get some from time to time. Winter is bird feeding season, and The Great Backyard Bird Count is on. This year, the GBBC has gone global, so readers anywhere in the world can contribute to this citizen-science initiative: uploading your data on birds leads to scientists knowing where they go and where they pass through; this in turn has positive results for conserving habitat.

I heard some birds out there today that were unusual, but I didn’t see them – I can be reasonably sure it was Northern Cardinals again, but if it was a Downy Woodpecker, as I’ve seen before, I hope he or she comes back. I hope that this winter I can get some Dark-eyed Juncos and some Common Redpolls to visit, or at least a White-throated Sparrow, as I had at my feeder for a week a couple of winters ago. And three years ago in the fall, I had a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk visit.  It was morning, and I was in the kitchen getting coffee, when I saw a big bird sitting on my backyard fence. I called my roommate to keep her attention on it – she had the name for it in German, but I can’t remember it now – while I went to get my glasses and my camera. When I got back, it had moved from the fence to the lilac tree. It stayed there up until I went to work – so more than half an hour.

Since September, pairs and trios of chickadees come by, and once (yes!) a warbler (unidentified, but remembered: dull yellow with grey wings) came and had a prolonged drink in my pond. My pond is what makes my backyard home to so many creatures besides myself.

I bet you didn’t know that water is just as important as food in the winter. Birds don’t do so well as dogs and humans at eating snow for water, so solarium roofs are great for melting snow and giving you a real view of the birds that drink from it – and so, of course, are bird baths. Put them at ground level if possible, and if you have (unlike me) a working outdoor electrical socket, use a heater underneath it. Alternatively, you can rig up a lightbulb-in-a-can and put the bath tray on top of the can. If you want to know more about attracting birds to your yard, look no further than the All About Birds site. Actually, do look further – there are so many good bird websites on the web. All About Birds is just one of my favourites.

I put out a dish outside the patio door, where I already feed my house sparrows. I clean and refill it when needed. Here is a picture of one using it:

And I am very happy to report that, while he was absent for a week, the sparrow with the broken leg is still around, and he got his share of the food yesterday.