Bird-Watching Is for the Dads
You can inherit a lot of things from your dad or granddad: his brown eyes or knobby knees, that little space between his front teeth, or even his habit of gesturing with both hands when he talks.
My husband picked up his hobby of watching birds from his granddad. Granddaddy C. wasn’t any kind of expert, just a backyard birder who loved putting out peanuts for the woodpeckers and watching hummingbirds zip from the flowers at the mailbox to a feeder hung from the edge of the carport. He kept a well-worn field guide at hand and learned the names of many birds in the many different places he lived.
Granddaddy is gone now, but my husband remembers him when he sits on the deck on Saturday mornings, a cup of coffee in hand, and watches for visitors at our feeder. It’s made easy for us to find gifts for him on Father’s Day, since dedicated bird-watchers never seem to have enough gizmos for their feathered friends.
One year we wrapped up a fancy bird feeder, the kind that uses batteries to make it spin anytime a marauding squirrel goes for the seeds. (It worked. The furry little sneaks get thrown off—safely—into the pine straw below.) We included a giant bag of specialty birdseed, too, a mix of black oil sunflower and safflower seeds, nuts and dried fruits. The premium mix was pricey, but the seller assured us that we wouldn’t have much waste—and he was right. Most commercial mixes are full of milo, a small, hard grain. Birds won’t eat it, if they have a choice, and scratch it out of the feeder onto the ground. So while you pay more up front for the good stuff, you save money in the long run.
If you’ve got a bird-lover in your family—or you’d like to introduce dad or granddad to a fun, new hobby—try one of these gift ideas, and skip the tie this year:
Take dad or granddad with you when you buy. Bird watching through binoculars is different than using binoculars for hiking or doing other things. It’s best to let the user pick out his own pair. You get what you pay for, so decide on a price range before you go shopping.
- Platform feeders are trays that hang from a stake or branch, or that attach to the end of a pole. They’re great for giving you an unobstructed view of the birds, but they’re easy for squirrels to raid, and the seed in them gets wet if it rains. Consider a covered feeder instead, or use an optional cover to help keep the seed dry.
- Tube feeders have perches for small birds to land on, so several can dine at once. They’re nice for birds that travel in flocks, like goldfinches.
- Hopper feeders have a spring-activated perch that shuts off the seed supply when something heavier than a bird—that is, a squirrel—lands on them.
- Nyjer feeders are either tube feeders with very small ports, or fine mesh bags that hold thistle, tiny seeds loved by goldfinches, pine siskins and other birds.
- Suet feeders are wire baskets that hold blocks of suet mixed with seeds, nuts, berries, fruits or even peanut butter. You can hang them from a tree or pole, and birds will cling to them to peck at the suet.
It’s a lot of fun to watch birds carry straw, moss and other nesting materials into a house, and it’s even better when their babies hatch and fledge, or learn to fly. Choose a house for the kind of birds you want to attract, such as bluebirds, wrens or robins. Purple martins will use apartment-style houses.
You can buy a simple feeder for hummingbirds, or opt for a model that’s a beautiful garden ornament, too. Be sure to clean this often and change the water, which can spoil in hot weather. Try this recipe for hummingbird food.
If your dad is a real bird-fan, he’d love a weatherproof, motion-activated bird camera like this one to catch the action when nobody’s watching. Some models have a flash for after-dark photos and a setting for time-lapse photography.