“Overcoming the COVIC-19 Lockdown Blues” could be the title to an authentic Blues rhapsody.
The perfect way to overcome the COVID-19 lockdown blues? Backyard birding.
“Kids are naturally curious, so becoming a backyard birder helps feed that curiosity,” says Bird Expert Matt Abernathy. “Help your kids learn the common birds you see in your yard and go from there.”
Abernathy recommends making backyard birding fun for the kids by walking around the neighborhood, maintaining social distancing the whole time and not sharing binoculars, field guides or spotting scopes except with the family.
“See if you find birds you haven’t seen in your yard,” he said. “What about at grandma and grandpa’s house? There are lots of resources to help adults and their kids learn more about birding.”
Abernathy knows all about birding. He is a Texas A&M-Galveston graduate with a bachelor’s in ocean and coastal resources and a master’s in marine resource management. His interest in the outdoors took him to several outdoor organizations before he returned to Precinct 4 and Jones Park and Nature Center in Humble where he is assistant director.
“My passion was always reptiles, but I met our ornithologist, and she got me interested in birds,” Abernathy said. “We’ve been married 10 years now and still love spending time outdoors, seeing what we can find and sharing that passion with our son.”
John and Susie Mims are passionate about birds, too.
“The peace and joy that comes with watching birds is a great way to escape the chaos around us,” said John, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited Kingwood. “The rest of the world is closed. Your backyard is always open.”
The Mims specialize in backyard birding which, John points out, is different from birding.
“Serious birders spend time and money traveling to see new and different birds,” John said. “Backyard birding is simply attracting birds to your backyard. It is as simple as placing some birdseed out and enjoying the birds that visit.”
The species of birds visiting Lake Houston number close to 300, according to Abernathy.
“We have birds living here all year long, some only in the summer or winter, some that pass through during migration,” he said. “There are 600 species documented in Texas and 300 in the Lake Houston area.”
Some of Lake Houston’s most common birds are the northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina chickadee and Carolina wren,” said Abernathy.
“A few stand out that parents and their kids would enjoy looking for,” he said. “The Swainson’s warbler spends its summers nesting in our bottomland forests. The Prothonotary warbler is a beautiful, bright-yellow bird that nests in our cypress swamps in summer.”
Bald eagles and American white pelicans often are sighted around the lake but “ … but there are dozens more,” Abernathy said. “One of the best resources is eBird, a citizen science program run by Cornell Lab for Ornithology. Users document bird sightings from around the world, including Jesse Jones Park.”
Check out the bird sightings for Lake Houston at ebird.org/hotspot/L128996.
Attracting birds and making the yard more bird-friendly requires four necessities, says John Mims, “food, water, cover and space.”
“Birds need enough space to flee if they feel threatened, a safe cover to get out of inclement weather and roost at night,” he said, “and enough area to obtain a varied nutrient rich diet of insects and seeds.”
Mims recommends black-oil sunflower seed as the favorite food for most varieties of birds. Birds need fats and proteins in the oils and, if the oil has evaporated from being stored for extended periods, birds will not eat the seed, he said.
Cardinals, chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers love the black-oil sunflower seed and, just like humans, can be picky, so always select a good-quality seed blend, Mims says, because cheaper blends may have as much as 75% filler.
“If you feed the cheaper blends, you might observe birds throwing these filler seeds onto the ground as they dig for a rare sunflower seed,” he said.
As most homeowners know, birdseed is a favorite for those pesky squirrels. Mims has recommendations for the budding backyard birder about types of bird feeders, how to deal with unwanted guests at feeding, different food options for attracting a wider variety of birds, and many different feeder designs.
“Watching birds in your backyard is a great distraction from the stresses of the world,” Mims said. “Birds don’t know about deadlines, traffic congestion and viruses. They just come to eat and do what birds do.”
Watching from home is probably one of the safest hobbies, Abernathy said.
“There are endless resources available to help the budding backyard bird-watcher,” he said. “Just be careful what you see on the internet. Get information from a reputable source. Jones Park has a full-time staff available to answer questions and offer educational programs. And we are a great place to come watch the birds, too.”
Overcome the COVIC-19 lockdown blues. Talk with the Mims at the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in the Kingwood Crossing Shopping Center or watch some fascinating, brief birding videos at kingwood.wbu.com. Resources for Jesse Jones Park and Nature Center in Humble are found at hcp4.net/jones.