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Right in Your Own Backyard

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When winter is at its most monochromatic, I appreciate birds. Their quick flitting to and from the feeders in my backyard breaks the snowy monotony. When a pair of cardinals land on the bare branches of the redbud tree, one hunkering down over the sunflower seeds while the other stands guard, their scarlet feathers provide a much-needed jolt of color that stands in stark contrast to winter’s neutral palette.

While there are particular pleasures to feeding birds in frigid weather, winter isn’t the only time Americans do so. According to the National Bird Feeding Society, which recognizes February as National Bird Feeding Month, bird feeding is a $3.8 billion, year-round industry.

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Image from Oregon State University Archives on Flickr

It wasn’t always that way, however. While citizens of the world have entertained themselves for centuries by sharing breadcrumbs and cornmeal with wild birds, bird feeding in the U.S. can be traced to the mid- to late 1800s, when Henry Thoreau and others wrote about their avian encounters and birds turned up in poetry and prose. Not only were birds hunted for sport, feathers were a highly desirable element in women’s fashionable hats and accessories. Countless birds, including endangered and exotic species, were slaughtered to adorn women’s clothing. Thanks to efforts of ornithologists, Audubon Societies and writers including Florence Merriam Bailey, awareness grew that without protection many bird species risked extinction. The result was the first federal law protecting wildlife, the Lacey Act of 1900.

Linzee_backyard_1.jpg

Image from UW Collections on Flickr

Attention to these issues also increased the public’s appreciation for nature in general and birds in particular. Simple wooden trays on posts began appearing in backyards and the Nature Study Movement, which emphasized learning through “nature, not books,” meant that school children’s science lessons increasingly included exploration of the world around them. Birds, which survive in cityscapes and countryside alike, were readily available for study and feeding them brought them in close for observation and appreciation.

In the 1910s and 1920s, small businesses grew around bird feeding, but when the Depression hit, feeding birds took a back seat to feeding one’s family. As the economy recovered the industry did too, and by the 1950,  as prosperity and home ownership grew, birdfeeders sprouted alongside barbecues in American backyards. While wild birds typically had been fed leftover chicken feed or corn meal, the bird feeding industry began to grow sunflower seeds and grains specifically for birds.

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Image from the State Library of New South Wales on Flickr

Though there has been some controversy about wild bird feeding, author, conservationist and birder Paul Baicich says while wild birds don’t need us to sustain them through the winter, feeding them doesn’t harm them. “We’re doing it mostly because it brings them closer to us in our backyards and gives us a lot of enjoyment,” he says. “Feeding birds can give you a different orientation toward wildness and nature.”

And, I find, a different orientation towards winter. When I’m indoors so much at this time of year, my head in a book or my eyes glued to my computer, there is nothing like a red bird against a white background to sharpen my senses and remind me that the natural world is still fresh and alive, right in my own backyard.

More Features From Linzee | Bird Feeders on Etsy

  • JudiPaintedit

    JudiPaintedit says:

    Its like a little history lesson..

    4 years ago

  • thelittlemarket

    thelittlemarket says:

    Lovely article!! We very much enjoy feeding the wild birds in our neighborhood with our toddler daughter!!

    4 years ago

  • ikabags

    ikabags says:

    Wonderful ! Many thanks, love birds !

    4 years ago

  • candacejean

    candacejean says:

    I adore all those old photos! Bird feeding is a favorite pastime at my house. Those 'lil birds can sure be gluttons come wintertime though. ;) Thanks for this neat article!!

    4 years ago

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace says:

    beautifully written and amazing pictures too!

    4 years ago

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie says:

    I love everything about birds! Thanks for remembering us in this nasty weather. xo :> :>

    4 years ago

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome says:

    Love to feed the birds all year round and learned a lot from my Dad about them. It's something that brought my Dad and I closer together, he is gone now but I still have fond memories of us talking about our hobby.

    4 years ago

  • ErikaPrice

    ErikaPrice says:

    I love feeding the birds!

    4 years ago

  • ErikaPrice

    ErikaPrice says:

    A great post - and some lovely birdie finds - especially the corn silk saltbox house!

    4 years ago

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie says:

    Love the Oregon State archive. It's a wonderful reference for bird making art...or art making birds. Love this blog, Linzee!

    4 years ago

  • stellaandlux

    stellaandlux says:

    beautifully written article. thanks for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • ErikaPriceOriginals

    ErikaPriceOriginals says:

    Really enjoyed reading this - I've just finished making "fat balls" for our little birds - blue tits, great tits, robins, and so on :)

    4 years ago

  • DecadesOfVintage

    DecadesOfVintage says:

    Lovely article. Great vintage pictures Interesting etsy items Thank you

    4 years ago

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage says:

    I enjoy the different variety of birds that are attracted to my backyard.

    4 years ago

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy says:

    beautiful pictures, sweet photos of birds hanging out on humans. :) love the article.

    4 years ago

  • STLvintage

    STLvintage says:

    Love the pictures and very well written!

    4 years ago

  • VivaGailBeads

    VivaGailBeads says:

    Thank you for this lovely article!

    4 years ago

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye says:

    I do love my feathered back yard friends!

    4 years ago

  • Floreal

    Floreal says:

    The pictures are awesome!

    4 years ago

  • JamiesArt

    JamiesArt says:

    wonderful article and great pictures! Thank you

    4 years ago

  • genisepark

    genisepark says:

    I love feeding birds especially in the winter. Great article.

    4 years ago

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush says:

    Great article! I live away from the city now and so appretiate the serenity of the birds flying by and chirping in the trees, I love it!

    4 years ago

  • MorganNichole

    MorganNichole says:

    love the pictures and article.

    4 years ago

  • litapsilverj

    litapsilverj says:

    Great article! We feed our birds year round. I get so much inspiration watching my little feathered children feeding in our yard!

    4 years ago

  • sarantos

    sarantos says:

    I love feeding the birds. They like to drink out of our fish pond too.

    4 years ago

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop says:

    I am so happy to see this article. I have been Tweeting that people must remember to feed the birds when there is snow on the ground. And the crimson cardinals in my yard are the reward in an otherwise bleak landscape.

    4 years ago

  • birdie1

    birdie1 says:

    Lovely post ~ thank you! Our feeders here in the Midwest have been very active with cardinals, bluejays, little juncos and goldfinches (even though they have their brown coats on now)

    4 years ago

  • oaties

    oaties says:

    wow, both bird feeders are so magical..

    4 years ago

  • jelene

    jelene says:

    cool article! i just came in from feeding the birds here.. just saw the cutest chickadees and carolina wrens!

    4 years ago

  • JaneCooney

    JaneCooney says:

    What a great article!

    4 years ago

  • KathyGDesigns

    KathyGDesigns says:

    I enjoyed the article. The old photos are great!

    4 years ago

  • YourBeeswax

    YourBeeswax says:

    Thank you for this article and I love the photographs! Backyard birdwatching is a favorite activity in my neighborhood.

    4 years ago

  • RPotterStudio

    RPotterStudio says:

    Great article and photos..was just loving the birds in the snow today..special creatures that they are. :)

    4 years ago

  • TheLandofG

    TheLandofG says:

    I am Vet Tech to birds by day, Etsian by night. Thanks for remembering our little birds in the winter.

    4 years ago

  • BlueTerracotta

    BlueTerracotta says:

    Great article and photos! Even in the city, there are birds that come to eat what I put out at the window, especially when it's very cold or snowy. It's such a pleasure to watch them.

    4 years ago

  • ThoseThreeWords

    ThoseThreeWords says:

    Lovely article (from the lady with the bird avatar, hehe!). I especially enjoyed the photographs and the history behind it. We have a tiny patch of woods just out our kitchen window, and love watching the cardinals this time of year!

    4 years ago

  • AlissaRose

    AlissaRose says:

    Love the photos! off to check my hummingbird feeder!

    4 years ago

  • PlumeandPetals

    PlumeandPetals says:

    Beautiful Photos and lovely article!~

    4 years ago

  • SugarCubeVintage

    SugarCubeVintage says:

    tweet tweet!

    4 years ago

  • AmandaSainsbury

    AmandaSainsbury says:

    Love feeding the birds! We've just taken part in this this last weekend: http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/

    4 years ago

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 says:

    What cute birds! We too have many a birdfeeder in our yard, thanks for the article!

    4 years ago

  • cakemates

    cakemates says:

    great article!

    4 years ago

  • Ffotograff

    Ffotograff says:

    Love it!!!

    4 years ago

  • e5jewel

    e5jewel says:

    Very nice read-I always say good morning and hello to the birds-they are the first to sing in the morning and share the joy! Thanks for sharing :)

    4 years ago

  • dahlies

    dahlies says:

    Treasury designed for National Bird Feeding Month: http://www.etsy.com/treasury/4d48745bf5436d914429ad3d/national-bird-feeding-month

    4 years ago

  • zwzzy

    zwzzy says:

    Oh man, I love bird watching & feeding! My friend and I always buy a bag of wild seeds when we go to the lake. Just remember - bread is bad for ducks & geese! Bring them cracked corn! ;)

    4 years ago

  • madebykim

    madebykim says:

    i love birdies!

    4 years ago

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection says:

    I love this, takes me back home to Ohio in the winter. Great! Monica theIDConnection

    4 years ago

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna says:

    What a lovely article, thank you so much. I am an avid bird feeder, I have feeders here at home and also at my studio and nothing makes me happier than a full house of hungry and chirping birds. I love the variety that changes during the year too, and definitely keep my guide book to PA birds (a gift from my husband) close at hand so I can identify them all. Thanks for this article!

    4 years ago

  • tkrdesigns

    tkrdesigns says:

    Nice article. We also feed the birds, and chipmunks, and squirrels, and turkeys, all year round at our home in the western mountains of Maine.

    4 years ago

  • pinkbijou

    pinkbijou says:

    I love the photos, and i adore birds too

    4 years ago

  • soule

    soule says:

    Awww.... I LOVE the picture with the birds sitting on the mans hat!

    4 years ago

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas says:

    Great choice of photos to go with the blog! I agree with you soule, that man is the sweetest!

    4 years ago

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage says:

    I am totally in love with wild birds and love watching them! Great article!

    4 years ago

  • TrudyAnnDesigns

    TrudyAnnDesigns says:

    Loved both the article and photos, my bird feeder is right by my kitchen window love to sit and just watch the lovely creatures enjoy a meal.

    4 years ago

  • fluxglass

    fluxglass says:

    Nice article and collection! Thank you!

    4 years ago

  • mayasideas

    mayasideas says:

    I loved this article. My dad put a bird feeder out side in our yard when I was younger. I enjoyed the birdies going in and out of the birdhouse getting their food!

    4 years ago

  • MJSGems

    MJSGems says:

    Great article I've always enjoyed feeding the birds

    4 years ago

  • daydreamjewels

    daydreamjewels says:

    Great article! I love birds and love watching them flying in my backyard, they have inspired many of my jewelry designs :)

    4 years ago

  • LaBellaTerra

    LaBellaTerra says:

    Really nice article. Thank you. I love birds unfortunately so do the cats in my neighborhood. My feeders are way up high & not close to anything where a cat can perch. Bright joy filled creatures are birds!

    4 years ago

  • theroyal

    theroyal says:

    birds and bees time eh

    4 years ago

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards says:

    great article and it's funny because I just finished a new plush... a pigeon!

    4 years ago

  • AnnTig

    AnnTig says:

    Thank you for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • TheOnly

    TheOnly says:

    Love this selection of photos. I love old style.

    4 years ago

  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage says:

    I'd like to acknowledge the contribution of Roger Tory Peterson, who realized one could identify a bird by the different colored feathers on a live bird--without the need to shoot the bird to identify it! It revolutionized birdwatching as we know it. I love those little feathered guys (and gals)! Thanks for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • anickascottage

    anickascottage says:

    Great article, thanks! But, I feed the Birds and the cute squirrels as well!

    4 years ago

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts says:

    Great article! Cute birds!

    4 years ago

  • TheVinylChalkboard

    TheVinylChalkboard says:

    I love this article! Great stuff!

    4 years ago

  • BambuEarth

    BambuEarth says:

    Sweet article. :)

    4 years ago

  • 1848jewelry

    1848jewelry says:

    Great article! Fabulous hat!!

    4 years ago

  • poorjimsvintage

    poorjimsvintage says:

    give it to the birds.

    4 years ago

  • heatherstephenson

    heatherstephenson says:

    great article was just admiring the nuthatch outside this afternoon

    4 years ago

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage says:

    Maybe birds remind us of freedom?

    4 years ago

  • marasdesigns

    marasdesigns says:

    thanks, i love to feed the birds.

    4 years ago

  • vboriginals

    vboriginals says:

    Wonderful article! Those pictures are very cool too. Life is to short to not watch the birds! Thanks!

    4 years ago

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 says:

    I have a lovely Cardinal couple outside my window that keep me company all year. And a dove duo that are so cute snuggled in my evergreen.

    4 years ago

  • earthnskystudio

    earthnskystudio says:

    Very informative article. I've always LOVED watching birds & hearing them sing in their various voices. And winter is an especially nice time to hear their songs outside my window. Thanks for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • designsbyJess

    designsbyJess says:

    Love my backyard birds!

    4 years ago

  • BackyardBrand

    BackyardBrand says:

    Backyard Brand® approves. Best Regards, The Backyard Harmonica Teacher

    4 years ago

  • natskreations

    natskreations says:

    I have all sorts of Gourd Birdhouses and birdfeeders in my yard and my studio!The birds love the natural look and feel of a gourd birdhouse.When I'm painting in my studio out back I so enjoy seeing and hearing all the different birds that migrate to Florida to avoid all that "Cold" weather.Love this post!!

    4 years ago

  • ScotlandUK

    ScotlandUK says:

    What a loely article and beautifully worded from one who really adores these little creatures. Many thanks for this insight into the birdfeeding world in the US. I partcularly like the old photo avove where the man is deep in thought about this tiny little bird in his hand. Many thanks

    4 years ago

  • TheHappyAcorn

    TheHappyAcorn says:

    I am in love with that photo of the Kingfishers. I used to see one all the time in the same spot on an electric wire over a pond. I just love them.

    4 years ago

  • frommylifetoyours

    frommylifetoyours says:

    love the history lesson. I can see that red bird on the feed with the white background right now , how beautiful

    4 years ago

  • NaturesCubbyhole

    NaturesCubbyhole says:

    Excellent article, I love the vintage photos and particularly that of the gentleman covered in songbirds, what a touching photograph! Thank you for the lovely history lesson and visualizations!

    4 years ago

  • BirdhousesByGlenn

    BirdhousesByGlenn says:

    Great article, love the birds!

    4 years ago

  • OliveSomeday

    OliveSomeday says:

    these are great images!

    4 years ago

  • tfamily5

    tfamily5 says:

    I love birds! Make sure you don't have bird feeders that you don't keep full though. The birds become dependant on your feed and when it's not there they really forget how to feed themselves.

    4 years ago

  • ornithologie

    ornithologie says:

    Wonderful article, the Kingfisher's in a Row are priceless.

    4 years ago

  • dearpumpernickel

    dearpumpernickel says:

    Sweet sweet photos and wonderful article for bird lovers, thanks!

    4 years ago

  • kidlee

    kidlee says:

    birds do make a real difference in our world. it's so nice to read an article about them on etsy. very refreshing! thank you!

    4 years ago

  • camilladesigns

    camilladesigns says:

    I tried to feed the scrub jays that live around my yard, but when my seeds attracted a neighborhood rodent instead, I decided to stop.

    4 years ago

  • SewMuchMoreDecor

    SewMuchMoreDecor says:

    Hehe, great pictures! Thanks so much for sharing :)

    4 years ago

  • CoyoteChy

    CoyoteChy says:

    My Mom is Bird Lady and as of this week I am Bird Lady Jr.! I woke up in a frenzy this morning making sure I had enough peanut butter pine cones and seed in my feeder. It was a -2 degrees!

    4 years ago

  • randomosity

    randomosity says:

    Those photos are so cool. Talk about perfect timing for this blog post. I just read it after I published a slideshow of the cardinals and other birds in the snow in my backyard. I love the red cardinals against the white snow. If you're interested, here is the link: http://www.associatedcontent.com/slideshow/76876/my_backyard_birds_in_northwest_ohio.html?cat=32 Not trying to spam, though, so feel free to delete my comment if it goes against policy to post links. I just thought you might be interested. :) Happy bird-watching!

    4 years ago

  • shop1848

    shop1848 says:

    Wonderful article! Great images!

    4 years ago

  • MontclairMade

    MontclairMade says:

    thanks for sharing my bird field guide garland! very cool article!

    4 years ago

  • girliepains

    girliepains says:

    Will have to repost!

    4 years ago

  • 111collagedesign

    111collagedesign says:

    Great article :) I just got a bird feeder this winter to give back to all the birdies who have been inspiring my art for so long!

    4 years ago

  • emerald3358

    emerald3358 says:

    Thanks for the beautiful article. I love feeding the birds in my backyard! At present I am sitting with my coffee at the kitchen table looking at our bird feeders and the birdies. It's a wonderful morning ritual for me.

    4 years ago

  • Hollyrocks

    Hollyrocks says:

    I love this article! I have found so much inspiration from my little backyard habitat.

    4 years ago

  • arsniccandy

    arsniccandy says:

    I looooove birds. Great article. I love the first foto of all the kingfishers:)

    4 years ago

  • ForsythiaHill

    ForsythiaHill says:

    i love this post and all the cool old photos - i feed the birds suet -- even the big old crows come - which i love!

    4 years ago

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias says:

    sweet sweet birds-- i feed my little friends and adore watching them-- thanks for the great post!

    4 years ago

  • EternalLove12

    EternalLove12 says:

    i love some of your picture with the birds. I do feed my birds and also we have couple of squirrells came to the bird feeder with corncob. I never complain about that. I have plently of foods for every birds and squirrells. : )

    4 years ago

  • finefeatheredfinds

    finefeatheredfinds says:

    Very nice blog! I also feed the birds and really enjoy that little time outside filling the feeders and hearing the gleeful bird songs as soon as I open the door in the morning. It's as if they know I am going to bring them a treat. Birds are so wonderful. All this cold and snow, they don't even complain, they just sing!

    4 years ago

  • debbiehillsgarden

    debbiehillsgarden says:

    I have been enjoying my birds this winter, especially on snowy days..i've even had BLUEBIRDS come to my feeders, and that's a first! Thanks for the nice article and pics!

    4 years ago

  • mofunkdesigns

    mofunkdesigns says:

    Thanks for the article. I agree with the above... please don't feed bread as it clogs up the works in their crops. Consider planting some of the local native plants in your backyard to provide natural food and habitat for our lovely precious birds.

    4 years ago

  • Heavenlytreasures123

    Heavenlytreasures123 says:

    Great article!! We also love feeding and watching our birds of all colors and kinds . we have had some beautiful robins this year. This article takes us back in history and that makes it even more interesting! thanks for posting!

    4 years ago

  • frecklesoriginals

    frecklesoriginals says:

    Beautifully written. Those old photos are amazing. We have taken so much from the birds it's only right to help them out a little during the cold weather.I have added a Blue Rock Thrush to my list this week. Pam

    4 years ago

  • samsstuff

    samsstuff says:

    Interesting & informative article!

    4 years ago

  • GalleonGal

    GalleonGal says:

    birds, wake us with song, fly in artistic formation above us, they must be hungry and the weather has been dreadful, Wonderful article

    4 years ago

  • BRHDesigns

    BRHDesigns says:

    I love feeding birds as well and was so lucky last year to have several painted buntings at my feeders (Florida) for a few weeks! Thank you for a great article.

    4 years ago

  • Bumbleweedz

    Bumbleweedz says:

    sweet tweet

    4 years ago

  • PrettyLoot

    PrettyLoot says:

    I love birds! I love to feed them, too!

    4 years ago

  • artropology

    artropology says:

    Very interesting. I did not know that February is recognized as national bird feeding month. I know that the birds that I feed Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Carolina Chicadee, Blackcapped Chickadee, tufted titmouse, woodpecker,downy woodpecker, and occasional purple finch have eaten more sunflower seeds than in the previous months.

    4 years ago

  • AKingsThings

    AKingsThings says:

    A nice pause in the day...birds can do that for us. Great photos also. Thanks.

    3 years ago