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Tips for becoming a backyard birder

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Laura Fleming looks for birds at Agate Lake.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Laura Fleming looks for birds at Agate Lake.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Laura Fleming looks for birds at Agate Lake.
Southern Oregon is a birding hotspot, with lots of resources available for aspiring birders

Birdwatching has been a popular pastime in the United States for a long time. It was introduced in the early 20th century.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there were 45.1 million birdwatchers in the U.S. ages 16 and older, and interest in birds has increased significantly during the pandemic, particularly backyard birding.

Some experts in human behavior have said seeing birds while enjoying the outdoors has allowed people to forget about the limitations that COVID-19 has wrought.

Some hobbyists describe it as a mindful activity because it’s best done by experiencing the moment and just watching the birds.

The National Audubon Society reported in August of 2020 that sales went “through the roof for seed suppliers, birdhouse builders and small businesses helping people connect with the nature in their backyards.”

Laura Fleming, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited in Medford, located at 961 Medford Center, has close ties with the Rogue Valley Audubon Society. One of the people working there, Erin Ulrich, is president of the local Audubon chapter.

Everyone working there knows plenty about birds, bird watching and items associated with the hobby.

“We have a lot of birds here,” Fleming remarked about the region.

Fleming, who has 15 to 20 bird feeders in her backyard, encourages people interested in observing birds start off by placing a feeder in their yard. You can attract birds and watch them from the comfort of home — either from the yard or through a window.

A good quality bird feeder is important, she said. She suggested polycarbonate as a durable material for feeders because they are likely to last more than a season or two.

Keeping feeders clean and regularly disinfecting them is important. The feed put into it needs to be kept fresh, dry and be replaced as directed.

“It’s important to properly maintain feeders,” she said. “And keeping them clean is essential.”

Dirty bird feeders can sicken or kill birds, Fleming emphasized.

Some birds prefer specific types of feed and are attracted to particular types of feeders. She creates a variety of feeding sites in her yard so that the combination attracts an array of birds.

Those who don’t have a spot to set up a bird feeder can link up with a group and go on a walk. Both the store and Audubon organize such walks. A beginner should walk with people who know more about birds than they do. It’ll help those who are newly initiated get the most out of the experience, Fleming said.

More experienced bird watchers can demonstrate how to use binoculars and direct those with little experience to locations where birds have been sighted before.

“They can get you close to birds for the best view,” Fleming said. And usually in way a that won’t cause them to quickly fly off. The idea is to have opportunities to watch birds and learn about them.

However, “you don’t have to look at a book or at your phone while you’re there,” she said. “What does its beak look like? Look at its feathers, colors, shape and what it’s doing.”

While spring and fall are migratory periods. The winter can be a good time for bird watching.

“There are no leaves on trees then and it’s easier to see them,” Fleming said.

When conditions become too rough for them to fly or be out in the open, they are very good at finding shelter from the elements when the need arises. Even in winter.

“We worry about them a little more than we need to sometimes,” she added. “Birds do fine in the wintertime.”

Fleming suggested that people go online to learn about bird watching. The Wild Birds Unlimited website can be seen at medford.wbu.com. The Rogue Valley Audubon Society site is at www.roguevalleyaudubon.org/. The website of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is at www.birds.cornell.edu/home.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.