Nature Notes: A Living Christmas

CRAIG SPARKS photo

As I was repairing the recent storm damage to one of our bird feeders here at the wildlife center, a beautiful and tiny golden-crowned kinglet came right up to me. Only a foot away and completely unafraid of people, she was magnificent. A very small and compact bird, these little cuties seem like they would be right at home in an Easter basket, so small and perfect.

These little guys feed on insects hiding in tree bark, gnats, spiders and such, and they will also visit feeders for seed. But as bold as they are with people, they seem very shy and timid in and around other feeder species.

Similar in temperament to nuthatches and chickadees, these kinglets are the best of the best. They even rival the gregarious titmouse of the southwest when it comes to feathered curiosity.

These tiny birds and their cousins rely heavily on humans to supplement their insect diet and thanks to the millions upon millions of people who feed their backyard "flocks," these birds are at least holding their own population-wise.

With Generalissimo Bush's "healthy forests initiative" being a complete carte blanche for some of his campaign contributors to level as much of the remaining national forests as quickly as possible before the next elections, little folks, such as the golden-crowned kinglets and company, are always left out of any consideration as to who owns what.

In the crush to clear the forests and ship the best wood to Japan (our spectacular cedar forests laying all piled up for shipment to Japan ......hmmmm), just who will speak for the tiny Mrs. Kinglet and her brood and her ancient home now gone?

Who will stand and say I would rather have beautiful kinglets hopping about in our trees rather than horrific mountainside after mountainside after mountainside of tree stumps, monoculture forests and slumping property values?

But there are a few things you can do to help that can make a big difference in the kind of Christmas these hardy little pilots will have. Put out a healthy mix of birdseed, and keep it clean and dry and fresh. If the birdseed gets wet, gather it up, discard it and put out fresh seed. Wet birdseed will grow mold very quickly and the mold is fatal to small birds. Also please, never put out moldy bread for the birds. If the bread isn't good enough for you to eat, then throw it in the trash, otherwise you run the risk of killing birds with mold.

Water pans kept clean and fresh, in close to trees and bushes, allow these little guys to drop down from the branches and drink without being exposed to predatory birds like hawks and crows.

It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to help these guys survive. But if we don't take the time and spend a few bucks helping them, who will? And after all, what better Christmas decorations could there possibly be than a tree full of well-fed and frisky kinglets, or goldfinches or chickadees?

Talk about a living Christmas! Wow! What fun seeing these hardy little birds here!

All of us here at the Wildlife Center hope you have a wonderful wildlife-filled holiday season around a healthy live Christmas tree and that your holiday wishes will all come true.

• Check out our new weekly nature movie at: http://home.pacifier.com/~sparks/wildlife!!.html

• Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

• Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call the Wildlife Center at 665-3595 or send an e-mail to: sparks@pacifier.com.

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