Winter is tough on wild birds, so they'll appreciate a holiday gift aimed at helping them survive. It all boils down to making it easier for birds to find food, shelter and water, thus improving the odds they'll make it through each winter day. Here are some gift ideas for birds and bird watchers:
No, birds aren't nesting here at this season, but small, wooden nest boxes make great places for birds to hole up during long, cold nights. Give someone a gift of a well-made nest box, and it soon could make for sweet dreams for a grateful chickadee, downy woodpecker or nuthatch.
Bird feeder start-up
Know someone who likes to watch birds out the window? Increase their bird traffic with the gift of a new bird feeder, and toss in a bag of seed to get things started. A tube feeder plus a bag of nyger seed (for finches), a domed feeder and black-oil sunflowers (for cardinals and others), or a platform feeder and safflower seeds (for many winter species) will attract an avian crowd. Blue jays are especially fond of feeders filled with peanuts in the shell, visiting over and over to grab a new nut.
Everyone who appreciates eagles, hawks and falcons will treasure a copy of Laura Erickson's "Hawk Ridge, Minnesota's Birds of Prey." Focusing on Duluth's treasured Hawk Ridge observation site, Erickson engagingly tells the tales of the big birds that pass overhead on migration. This must-read for many on your list is available at many local bookstores, as well as online.
Food, glorious food
Here's something that will please the dedicated bird hosts on your list: a gift certificate or gift card from a wild bird supply store. The recipient will really appreciate being able to stock up on that 50-pound bag of peanuts in the shell, a big bag of black oilers or multiple suet cakes. People who feed birds are always on the lookout for something new to catch birds' eyes, and they'll enjoy the chance to splurge a bit. The birds will love it, too.
Wide-awake bird watchers
Coffee drinkers who also enjoy birds will appreciate the gift of shade-grown, organic coffee, grown in a way that doesn't harm the tropical forests where many birds spend the winter. Order online at www.birdsandbeans.com or check for shade-grown coffee locally.
There are two schools of thought about these persistent rodents: Keep them out or keep them busy. You might make a gift of a peanut feeder that closes up when a squirrel lands on it. Or how about a block with a spike to hold a cob of corn, keeping squirrels away from bird feeders for a good, long time.
Water, liquid form
Water is hard to come by on cold days, yet birds need to drink and groom their feathers every day. Back-yard feeding stations are enhanced by birdbaths with built-in heaters or stand-alone heating units. It's often said that back yards that offer water attract three times as many birds as those that don't.
The gift of knowing
The Birds of North America Online is a comprehensive digital encyclopedia, with complete data on all of our continent's breeding birds. Those who want to learn more about birds will really appreciate the gift of a year's access to this Cornell Lab of Ornithology offering: http://bna.birds .cornell.edu/bna/subscribe.
The Raptor Center and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center are wonderful places that heal sick or injured wild birds. To give a donation in someone's name to these wildlife hospitals, visit the Raptor Center at www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu and the Wildlife Rehab Center at www.wrcmn.org.
There are many small items that will please the bird watcher on your list, including plush toys that play a bird's song when squeezed, goofy small shelf ornaments, even a package of dried mealworms.
Visit your local wild bird supply store or the bird-feeding section of a well-stocked garden store for more gift ideas that will please the birds and those who care for them.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who leads bird hikes for the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.