February is National Bird Feeding Month! According to nationaltoday.com, this designation was given on February 23, 1994, when Congressman John Porter (R – Illinois) petitioned, ‘‘I would like to recognize February, one of the most difficult months in the United States for wild birds, as National Bird-Feeding Month. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water, and shelter to help wild birds survive. This assistance benefits the environment by supplementing the wild bird’s natural diet of weed seeds and insects.’’

So, on wintery days when you don’t want to go out in the cold, here’s a way to enjoy bringing nature closer, but not inside. Bird watching and feeding is a hobby that doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment. Generally, some kind of bird feeder and bird food, and if you’d like, a pair of binoculars and a bird book, are all that is needed. 

Unless you already have unsalted sunflower seeds or peanuts (in or out of the shell – either is fine), you will probably need to purchase bird food. It is readily available and comes in a number of varieties, any of which will do. 

For a feeder, you can either get creative and make one from a pinecone slathered with peanut butter and rolled in bird seed, or by cutting a plastic bottle and filling it with seed, or you can purchase one. (If you cut a bottle, keep the lid on it or the seed will fly out the side).

If you are new to bird feeding, it might be a good idea to get an all-in-one pressed-food feeder. This way, you don’t have to buy separate food and a feeder, and you can start your new hobby right away.

Once you have food and a feeder, you’ll need to think about where to hang it. The bane of most backyard birders is squirrels. Squirrels are hungry, and when someone hands out free food, they are not going to wait for permission before they dig in. So, if you hang your feeder from a tree, be warned that the squirrels will try to eat as much as the birds do. If you have a free-standing plant hanger, this might be a good alternative; just make sure the feeder hangs high enough and far enough from a tree that a squirrel can’t make a flying leap to it.

As the birds start to come, you may want a bird book to identify what you are seeing. There are several choices available through the library. Here are some of the ones that you might want to check out:

Slow Birding:The Art and Science of Enjoying Birds in Your Own Backyard by Joan Strassmann

Many birders travel far and wide to popular birding destinations to catch sight of rare or ‘exotic’ birds. In Slow Birding, evolutionary biologist Joan E. Strassmann introduces readers to the joys of birding right where they are. In this inspiring guide to the art of slow birding, Strassmann tells colorful stories of the most common birds to be found in the United States–birds we often see but might not have considered deeply before.

Birds of North America: Eastern Region by Fred Alsop

Provides illustrations helpful for identification of hundreds of birds native to the Eastern region of North America.

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America edited by Jon L Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer with Paul Lehman

Backyard Birding for Kids: An Introduction to Ornithology: Field Guide,  Projects, and More! By Erika Zambello

Become a young ornithologist. Learn all about the scientific study of birds. Author, birder, and outdoors researcher Erika Zambello presents a kids’ introduction to bird-watching. With fascinating information for beginners, the book provides readers with an understanding of bird anatomy, life cycles, habitat, and 60 species of backyard birds!

Whichever feeder you choose and whatever food you put in it, have fun watching the birds flock to it. If the squirrels get to it, sit back and laugh at their antics. Flip through a bird book and learn something new about these colorful winged friends. Enjoy a few minutes to watch nature and to know that you are helping the birds on what otherwise might be a cold, hungry day.