Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season

"Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season"
by Sally Roth.

The information in this book is arranged by changing seasons. This works well for the avid bird watcher as it follows the migration of most birds quite well. Topics such as building bird houses, what and how to feed, and when it's time to cut back those plants are found in seasons when it's most appropriate. This format doesn't always work well though.

Early on in the book she warns about Bear Attacks. It's good to get this topic out there early but readers might be lead to assume Spring is the only time to worry as they're not mentioned anywhere else. Other topics like opossums (possums?) and cats attacking birds at the feeder are placed in chapter on summer. Maybe these are the months when such attacks are most common but maybe it would have been better to take these out of the four seasons format and simply list them in their own Good to Know chapter.

The book opens with the author telling us about herself. She talks about her son and neighbors and stories almost to the point where she becomes a character in her own book. Not exactly a bad thing, one gets the vibe of a sweet grandmotherly women who always has her binoculars poised out the window. The rest of the book has shorter stories that feel optional to read and thank god for that. These personal stores have are written in a wordy fashion. It's not unreadable but could have been summarized better. This is only annoying at the very start of the book though and things flow much more nicely for the rest of the book.

When not telling us about herself she offers up superb advice. Having bird houses up and ready by the time Daffodils are blooming is one such fact and she explains why. I built a bird house myself earlier this year over the summer, and I wondered why nothing moved in it. Apparently all the cavity nesting birds that would have moved in were already well established in other locations. One has to put the bird houses up early to get the first few birds that migrate up. What's more she goes into detail about which birds are highly social (bird house hotel) all the way to highly territorial (males fight to the death).

It's here that we "sort of learn" how to build a bird house. Exact measurement would have been nice but she explains aren't necessary. Instead we're told, small, medium, and large but we're not given anything to reference what these sizes really mean. For some birds she offers general measurements for walls and height so young birds don't fall out too soon. I guess this is okay but I would have liked something better.

For each season there is a chapter devoted to plants which beneficial plants. Most of the plants featured are native and I'm happy to see she specifies "native to your region." Some non-natives are mentioned too but as far as I can tell she mentions nothing invasive. Other chapters are devoted to highlighting 3 types of birds that really summaries the season. She features maybe 5 to 7 plants for each type of bird. Some like ground cover or need fruit and nectar. Generally if your plants offer a lot of caterpillars, seeds, fruit, cover, and nesting your yard is good for the birds. Plant care is kept to a minimum but she mentions a great tip that a lot of gardeners don't do. DON'T CLEAN UP YOUR GARDEN! All those dead plant stems still have seeds on them and they poke up above the snow during the winter. In some cases there are even overwintering caterpillars that have curled up a leaf right on the dead plant. It annoys me that people do this. You don't need to clean up your garden until March of next year and it's great that she points this out.

She talks a good deal on each bird, it's habits, how it approaches the feeder, what foods they like best, and where they're most likely to nest. Identifying some of them to species level is better left for another book but some types are easy to pick out. She even mentions the benefits to having an array of birds around. For instance some birds eat their half their weight in insects a day, and some even specialize in eating aphids. All good to know.

But the absolute best thing about this book has to be the stunning pictures. Almost every page in this book has a brilliant picture or two of some of the most colorful birds in the country. I thought Bluebirds and Goldfinches were pretty; I've never seen a yellow Warbler, the orange of an Oriole or the warm browns of a Cedar Waxwing before. The photographers for this book even make the common brown Sparrows look amazing. They make me wonder why Hummingbirds are so prized by gardeners. This book is almost worth buying for the pictures alone. In the back there's a full page crediting probably more than 50 photographers.

Speaking as someone who's only starting out with birds I can say it's a good book to have. I wasn't able to bring myself to finish it though, but the thing is I plan to follow what I've read. This is one of those books where it's only interesting if you have the plants and are seeing those birds. Maybe when I get more Fall interest I'll finish reading those chapters and give Winter a try.