Animals - Nonfiction

The Backyard Bird Sanctuary: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Wild Bird Habitat at Home by Alan Baczkiewicz

Hello, hello, aspiring nonfiction readers! Here is a recommendation to all the animal watchers out there. I know many people in Gillette love to go to the fishing lake and watch the geese, watch the deer in their backyards, or simply be excited when you find a bird’s nest near your home. I simply love watching my local birds. It started in the summer when we had so many days above 100 degrees with many water sources shrinking up, so I worried about where animals could find a swig of water. Also, considering all of our below freezing days when there is not a bug or alive plant in sight, I too, worry about outdoor animals and how they will sustain in these harsh elements. In my attempts to aid our feathered friends, I have found delight in feeding, watching, and learning more about birds.

That is where The Backyard Bird Sanctuary by Alan Baczkiewicz comes into play! It has taught me so much about our local birds. Within this last year, I have really gotten into bird watching and have become quite the bird whisperer. I feel like Snow White when I walk outside my house and all the birds recognize me and line up along the fence. My friends even call me for rescue help now if a bird ends up in their building. Thanks to my knowledge from the bird book, I just see what kind of bird it is, play birdcalls to whatever species it is, and can draw it near enough to get it safely into a box where I can then relocate it to somewhere safe.  

(Seen Above: Frank, the White-crowned Sparrow who became trapped inside the Gillette College Pronghorn Center. Ashley caught and relocated him safely to a tree near her house where many other white-crowned sparrows frequent.)

Watch and Learn

Disclaimer: Partaking in Birdwatching may spiral down a trajectory of birding that you may not be able to control.

When I put out my first bird feeder, I found so much joy watching the few birds who would come along and witnessing how they interact with other birds. There are of course all the local chickadees, robins, sparrows, and doves, but later on in the season, you can find more juncos, finch, and grackle. My discovery of a grackle was something quite startling. My partner and I were watching birds out the window when suddenly; a grackle looks us dead in the eye and starts puffing out in all direction as if being inflated. My partner asked, “You saw that too, right?” and I start scream laughing at what we just witnessed and I say, “The bird that tried to explode at us? What is that!?”. We then proceeded on to The Backyard Bird Sanctuary book and identified that the bird was in fact a Common Grackle, and that that interaction is surprisingly normal. In their breeding season, males tip their heads back and fluff up their feathers to display and keep other males away. This same behavior is used as a defensive posture to attempt to intimidate predators. It is unclear whether the bird was attracted or defensive, but it was truly something to behold.

There is quite the drama amongst some birds, and it is so fun to see how they interact in their little bird worlds. Each species of bird you see has different social cues and behavior, and having the knowledge from this book to identify which bird you’re looking at and what its behavior is saying is extremely interesting. For example, doves are fun to observe. Socially, doves are timid birds. So even if they are at a bird feeder, surrounded by tens of other small birds, despite being three times the size of the surrounding chickadees and sparrows, they are never aggressive or territorial to the smaller birds. In contrast, when you add a couple of other doves in the mix with the little birds, depending on the personality, doves can get territorial when other doves are around. Even when it is their mate, they can get angry when their partner flies down and wants to eat food that they see as theirs. Not all doves act this way to each other, but when you have a peaceful bird feeder and a bully dove shows up, it can ruin everyone’s day.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I had this book checked out for far too long because I was having so much fun learning how to identify and attract new birds to my feeders. My neighbors could walk outside on a nice day and there could be up to 50 birds hanging about on my different bird feeding stations. My life was turning into an Alfred Hitchcock film, and I loved it. Getting to understand animals, nature, and take joy from the relationships I was building with birds has been one of the most satisfying hobbies I picked up in 2022. The Backyard Bird Sanctuary is a beginner’s guide, so it doesn’t go into great detail about each individual bird, but it does give you enough to get the gist of who a bird is, their interests, diet, preferred habitat and season, and their nesting procedures. It is basically their bird Facebook profile. This book gives you enough of the basics to draw you in, then adventure out to learn and read more on your own.

Apart from the individual birds, because this book has emphasis on how to build the perfect backyard bird sanctuary, there is also information in the beginning about the different kinds of feeders out there and which birds enjoy them, DIY advice for those who want to make their own bird houses, feeders, and treats, and how to maintain them. After watching the birds on my first bird feeder that was a round hanging plate, I learned that it was difficult for birds to perch to eat on it, so I crisscrossed two chopsticks to hang underneath it for birds to land on. This was a step up, but because of how birds face out with their feet, they were all facing out and having to twist to get food, so more modifications still needed to be made. Adding another little piece of wood near the end at each chopstick provided a plus (+) shape that the birds could then successfully land on and face the food. The next issue was that because it was just a normal, flat plate, there was no drainage, so if it rained or snowed, the food would freeze or get wet. The next step was drilling small drainage holes in the plastic plate, but after that, the birds could fully enjoy and utilize that feeder. As I acquired more and more bird feeders, from watching the behaviors or the birds using them, I learned how to modify to make my backyard bird sanctuary as functional as possible.

On the topic of having a functional bird sanctuary, I cannot over-exaggerate the importance of maintaining a clean birdfeeder. The last thing you want is to cause the birds you enjoy harm, so making sure you occasionally clean the feeders can help reduce the risk of turning your bird feeder into a bacteria and disease spreader. Bird watching can be great, but being responsible for the impact you have on the birds is a vital part of it.

With spring on its way, grabbing our copy of The Backyard Bird Sanctuary from the library could be a great way to reconnect with nature within the following months.