My afternoon nap was interrupted by the dinging of the doorbell and the savage response of our miniature Australian Shepherd as she ran to the front door in a rage.

I was convinced that in light of such a vicious attack by our beast that whoever had interrupted my nap would be running down the street in terror.

But with a nose clamp on Shadow the dog, Jackie answered the door, only to find, as I had suspected, that no one was there.

Then she heard a tiny sound of a clearing voice and looked down. The cardinal that had come for dinner and stayed six months was standing on the stoop.

“Mrs. Boswell,” he said, “are you aware there isn’t any sunflower seed in the feeder?”

Feeding birds in your backyard is an option, particularly in the summer when wild seeds are abundant for the teeny moochers. The reason you feed birds is so you can watch them. Only lazy birds die for lack of food.

So today, class, we are going to examine the fine art of backyard birding, particularly as it pertains to habitat, food, and water. I know, I have covered this in the past several times, but the questions I get when I get off of the couch and back into society are usually about bird watching in our own little bird world just off of the patio.

Habitat comes first, for most song birds don’t survive their first year of life unless they have a safe room to hide in when predators come into its territory, aka, your backyard.

Yards and yards of St. Augustine grass, neatly mowed and trimmed in hopes of being recognized as the “Yard of the Month” by the gods of greenery who make such monumental decisions, will only attract birds that are dumb enough to dine out in the open in view of feral cats and small hawks.

Preparing your yard for a bird habitat means you don’t have to mow or trim anymore, much less pick up sticks and rake leaves. The brush I leave along my back fence has provided a maternity ward for cardinals, and they let me watch as they teach their babies how to find food and fly.

Food for birds can be as simple as tossing a handful of seed out the back door to putting up multiple feeders and filling them with expensive seed. We have a platform feeder, a tube feeder, a hummingbird feeder and a feeder that holds suet cakes.

But to stay within your budget, the best thing to do is decide how much you are going to put out each day. I put Jackie in charge of the feeders and she feeds the birds twice a day.

We have had very little luck attracting hummers this summer, with only two of the little scouts visiting our feeders and tasting the sugar water. But the visits to our suet cake have been exciting. We have particularly had success with woodpeckers, recording several downy, one hairy and a red-bellied. I have even seen a brown thrasher sitting on the perch and pecking away at the greasy little squares. We find peanut butter the most attractive, especially to our myriad of resident house sparrows.

Some people buy expensive bird seed. For the most part Jackie and I give our birds the basics of life in a mixed bag. The seed is sprinkled on a platform, with a little intentionally spilled on the ground for the doves.

Put the feeders where you can see them from the kitchen window, for the purpose of backyard birding is that you can observe and record the different species you have seen.

The last need of birds is water, particularly in the heat of summer. We have had a very wet year, and it has not been as big a concern as it was in past overheated summers. Jackie puts flower pot saucers on the ground that are less than two inches deep. In hot weather, they need to be changed often.

So there you have it, the basics of backyard birding. 

Jackie just made a batch of brownies. I don’t know why she bakes them and then tells me I can’t eat them. I snuck out of the house and rang our doorbell. When Jackie answered, I stood on the front porch with my mouth wide open and fluttered my arms.

She let me lick the spoon.


Boswell is a Greenville resident and author whose birding column is syndicated. Contact him at

Recommended for you