Jewels Of The Sky – Appreciating The Diversity, Beauty, And Intrinsic Value Of Birds

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Birds are some of the most fascinating creatures that share our world. They are found in every continent and almost every corner of the globe, including our backyards. They are capable of migrating over thousands of miles, sometimes over deserts and oceans.

Some birds dive deep under water for fish and invertebrates, while others clock speeds of up to 200 mph through the air. Birds can withstand brutal winter temperatures, and scorching summer days. Some, like the Demoiselle crane, are known to soar high above mountain ranges reaching well over 30,000 feet. Others, like the King penguin, are known to migrate vast stretches of Antarctic ice on foot.

Birds come in all sizes and shapes. Some, like the bee hummingbird, are smaller than a pinky finger, while others, such as the ostrich, can reach 9 feet in height. The Frigate bird can spend a lifetime on the wing, rarely ever touching earth, while California quail are happy scouring the ground for seeds and insects. Birds have been revered for their amazing aerial abilities and gorgeous feathered displays. Ancient Egyptians believed birds to be sacred links to the spirit world. Many cultures, including our own, employ birds as symbols of freedom.

Birds share a common, evolutionary benefit: They have light, strong skeletons, and modified scales (their feathers). These traits have fascinated humans for eons, and even inspired us to dream of flying ourselves. The unique structure of feathers has given us great insight into lightweight, structural engineering, and has provided us with insulation against the elements.  Feathers are used in sleeping bags and jackets, and in colorful displays of ceremonial headdresses.

While it is important for us to understand the benefit of birds as resources, it’s equally important to understand how birds benefit the health of our environment. Birds are intrinsically valuable for a behavior that comes naturally to all animals: eating. They help consume countless insects, rodents and pests. Some, like ducks and other water fowl, consume mosquito larvae, thereby decreasing disease vectors. Others, like vultures and eagles, help scavenge for dead animals, acting as natures “clean-up crew.”

Many birds benefit plants through their role in disbursing seeds, while hummingbirds facilitate pollination. In addition, birds stimulate local economies by attracting thousands of birders … and in the process, they help secure wildlife refuges across the planet. The value of these wild places cannot be underestimated.

Birds also help us monitor overall environmental health. We can measure the effects of human impact on a global scale by observing bird health, migration patterns, and population sizes. Measuring bird health allows us to keep a finger on the pulse of ecosystems and lends insight into the study of climate change.

Perhaps the most important benefit of living with birds is not something we measure objectively through economic and environmental benchmarks, but something we measure subjectively through our emotions. Numerous studies have demonstrated improvements in mental health through observation of nature and spending time “unplugged” from our electronic environment. So shake off those winter blues – “eco-therapy” is available to us all, and the office is right out our back door!

Two amazing bird-related events are happening in January and February that you won’t want to miss: 

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Photo by Steve McDonald.

The 17th annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway in Chico, CA, runs  January 27–31, 2016. Fly on over to one of California’s premier birding festivals. This action-packed 5-day event celebrates the millions of waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway that call the Northern Sacramento Valley their home during the winter months.

The festival offers family activities, field trips, workshops, a wildlife art exhibit & reception banquet, a silent auction and so much more! There are over 70 guided field trips & workshops offered, many of which are free and cater to both adults and youth. Learn from numerous local and national presenters as well as the festival’s featured keynote speaker, George D. Lepp, who is one of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor & nature photographers.

Bring the entire family to wander through intriguing exhibits and attend a variety of free presentations and activities, including “All about Bats,” “Raptors and Rehab,” and a wildlife film. Kids will love the bustling Junior Naturalist activity center. Admission to the festival headquarters is free, located at the Masonic Family Center, 1110 W. East Ave. Info: http://www.snowgoosefestival.org; (530) 345-1865. 

The 37th Winter Wings Bird Festival in Klamath Falls, OR, takes place February 11–14, 2016. Don’t miss the longest-running bird festival on the West Coast, offering something for everyone, from the advanced birder to the budding enthusiast! Presented by Klamath Basin Audubon Society, this spectacular event celebrates the return of the Bald Eagle and waterfowl of the Pacific Flyway. It includes 32 top-notch field trips (fee based) as well as seven talks and a film (free with registration). Presentation highlights include birding expert and TV host ​James Currie, and ​Stephen Johnson​, a Canon Explorer of Light photographer.

Visit close to 40 vendors from all over the region from Friday to Sunday. Saturday is a big day for children, with art contests, a kids activity area with hands-on fun, and a major falconry event featuring 11 raptors. Get to know your waterfowl, explore lava beds, improve your photography and “shoot” with the pros, discover a “lifer,” go on an owl prowl. Enjoy a “BIG day” tour,  join a raptor photo shoot, learn birding basics, discover animal tracking … or kick back with laid-back birding. Info: http://www.winterwingsfest.org; (877) 541-2473.  

art-0116-ornamentBirdseed Ornaments

By Raven Tree-Wild Bird and Nature Shop

You Will Need:

  • 1 cup water
  • Measuring cup
  • Cookie cutters
  • 5 cups wild birdseed
  • 2 packets of gelatin (a 1 oz box of Knox gelatin has 4 packets)
  • 2 Tbsp corn starch
  • Raffia, ribbon, or twine
  • Waxed paper   

Optional:

  • Cranberries or raisins
  • Native berries
  • Nuts (roughly chopped)

To make your ornaments: 

Boil 1 cup of water.

In a large bowl, mix 2 envelopes of gelatin with hot water. Stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Add birdseed and cornstarch, blend well. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes and stir again. Repeat until mixture is cool.

Cover you working surface with wax paper, then fill cookie cutters with seed mixture; press down firmly making sure there are no air pockets.

Use a chopstick to make a hole in each ornament for hanging. Let dry at least 8 hours before removing from cutters.

Loop raffia, ribbon or twine through the hole for hanging.

Hang outside for the birds to enjoy!

More Local Bird-related Resources & Activities!

Bird Watching Outings:

  • 1st Saturday Bird Watching Outing in Redding. Curious about the birds around us? All ages are invited to stroll around the Turtle Bay area with expert Dan Greaney to learn to observe & identify our feathered friends. Binoculars & field guides are supplied. 9-11am. Meet at the Turtle Bay Monolith. 844 Sundial Bridge Dr. (530)225-4095. 
  • 1st Saturday Guided Bird Tour in Red Bluff. A bird lover’s dream! Take a guided tour through the fascinating world of the great outdoors. In a recent walk over 30 birds were sighted. Bring binoculars, camera & weather-appropriate attire. All ages. 8am. Sacramento River Discovery Center, 1000 Sale Lane. http://www.sacramentoriverdiscoverycenter.com. (530)527-1196.
  • Three North State Audubon groups offer bird-related outings and events locally.
  • Altacal Audubon Society serves Butte Glenn and Tehama: http://www.altacal.org.
  • Mount Shasta Area Audubon serves Siskiyou County: http://www.mtshastaaudubon.com.
  • Wintu Audubon Society serves Shasta County: http://www.wintuaudubon.org.

Upper CA Wildlife Refuge and Watchable Wildlife Areas for Birding

These locations often offer walking trails, self-guided driving tours, informative visitor’s centers and more to enhance your educational experience. Also visit our area’s wonderful state parks.

Other Bird-Related Resources:

  • National Audubon Society website: http://www.audubon.org.
  • Raven Tree Wild Bird & Nature Shop in Mt. Shasta has a mission of educating and inspiring young and old alike to explore the world of birds. Wild bird and nature enthusiasts will find everything they need … the right birdseed, birdhouse, field guide and more. Find out about bird-related trips, classes and gatherings designed for both adults and kids. Visit the shop at 138 Morgan Way or online at http://www.raventreeshop.com. (530) 926-6695.
  • Turtle Bay Exploration Park offers an interactive aviary featuring beautiful Australian lorikeets. Take a walk through the Parrot Playhouse: Lories! exhibit and feed colorful birds from your hand. Turtle Bay Exploration Park, 844 Sundial Bridge Dr. (530)243-8850.
  • Tulelake Birding website: tule-lake.com/tulelake-birding.
Kendra Bainbridge
About Kendra Bainbridge

Kendra and Troy Bainbridge live in Mt. Shasta with their two hatchlings. They share the love of all wild creatures. Kendra has taken her passion of winged creatures and opened Raven Tree Wild Bird and Nature Shop. Troy enjoys pretending to be a bird while flying airplanes and paragliders.

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