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Right in Your Own Backyard

Feb 1, 2011

by Linzee McCray

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.


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.


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.


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

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  • JudiPaintedit

    JudiPaintedit said 5 years ago

    Its like a little history lesson..

  • thelittlemarket

    thelittlemarket said 5 years ago

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

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 5 years ago

    Wonderful ! Many thanks, love birds !

  • candacejean

    candacejean said 5 years ago

    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!!

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace said 5 years ago

    beautifully written and amazing pictures too!

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie said 5 years ago

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

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome said 5 years ago

    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.

  • ErikaPrice

    ErikaPrice said 5 years ago

    I love feeding the birds!

  • ErikaPrice

    ErikaPrice said 5 years ago

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

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 5 years ago

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

  • stellaandlux

    stellaandlux said 5 years ago

    beautifully written article. thanks for sharing!

  • ErikaPriceOriginals

    ErikaPriceOriginals said 5 years ago

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

  • DecadesOfVintage

    DecadesOfVintage said 5 years ago

    Lovely article. Great vintage pictures Interesting etsy items Thank you

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage said 5 years ago

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

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 5 years ago

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

  • STLvintage

    STLvintage said 5 years ago

    Love the pictures and very well written!

  • VivaGailBeads

    VivaGailBeads said 5 years ago

    Thank you for this lovely article!

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye said 5 years ago

    I do love my feathered back yard friends!

  • Floreal

    Floreal said 5 years ago

    The pictures are awesome!

  • JamiesArt

    JamiesArt said 5 years ago

    wonderful article and great pictures! Thank you

  • genisepark

    genisepark said 5 years ago

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

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 5 years ago

    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!

  • MorganNichole

    MorganNichole said 5 years ago

    love the pictures and article.

  • litapsilverj

    litapsilverj said 5 years ago

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

  • sarantos

    sarantos said 5 years ago

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

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    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.

  • birdie1

    birdie1 said 5 years ago

    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)

  • oaties

    oaties said 5 years ago

    wow, both bird feeders are so magical..

  • jelene

    jelene said 5 years ago

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

  • JaneCooney

    JaneCooney said 5 years ago

    What a great article!

  • KathyGDesigns

    KathyGDesigns said 5 years ago

    I enjoyed the article. The old photos are great!

  • YourBeeswax

    YourBeeswax said 5 years ago

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

  • RPotterStudio

    RPotterStudio said 5 years ago

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

  • TheLandofG

    TheLandofG said 5 years ago

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

  • BlueTerracotta

    BlueTerracotta said 5 years ago

    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.

  • ThoseThreeWords

    ThoseThreeWords said 5 years ago

    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!

  • AlissaRose

    AlissaRose said 5 years ago

    Love the photos! off to check my hummingbird feeder!

  • PlumeandPetals

    PlumeandPetals said 5 years ago

    Beautiful Photos and lovely article!~

  • SugarCubeVintage

    SugarCubeVintage said 5 years ago

    tweet tweet!

  • AmandaSainsbury

    AmandaSainsbury said 5 years ago

    Love feeding the birds! We've just taken part in this this last weekend:

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 5 years ago

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

  • cakemates

    cakemates said 5 years ago

    great article!

  • Ffotograff

    Ffotograff said 5 years ago

    Love it!!!

  • e5jewel

    e5jewel said 5 years ago

    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 :)

  • dahlies

    dahlies said 5 years ago

    Treasury designed for National Bird Feeding Month:

  • zwzzy

    zwzzy said 5 years ago

    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! ;)

  • madebykim

    madebykim said 5 years ago

    i love birdies!

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection said 5 years ago

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

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna said 5 years ago

    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!

  • tkrdesigns

    tkrdesigns said 5 years ago

    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.

  • pinkbijou

    pinkbijou said 5 years ago

    I love the photos, and i adore birds too

  • soule

    soule said 5 years ago

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

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas said 5 years ago

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

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 5 years ago

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

  • TrudyAnnDesigns

    TrudyAnnDesigns said 5 years ago

    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.

  • fluxglass

    fluxglass said 5 years ago

    Nice article and collection! Thank you!

  • mayasideas

    mayasideas said 5 years ago

    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!

  • MJSGems

    MJSGems said 5 years ago

    Great article I've always enjoyed feeding the birds

  • daydreamjewels

    daydreamjewels said 5 years ago

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

  • LaBellaTerra

    LaBellaTerra said 5 years ago

    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!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 5 years ago

    birds and bees time eh

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards said 5 years ago

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

  • AnnTig

    AnnTig said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing!

  • TheOnly

    TheOnly said 5 years ago

    Love this selection of photos. I love old style.

  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage said 5 years ago

    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!

  • anickascottage

    anickascottage said 5 years ago

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

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 5 years ago

    Great article! Cute birds!

  • TheVinylChalkboard

    TheVinylChalkboard said 5 years ago

    I love this article! Great stuff!

  • BambuEarth

    BambuEarth said 5 years ago

    Sweet article. :)

  • 1848jewelry

    1848jewelry said 5 years ago

    Great article! Fabulous hat!!

  • poorjimsvintage

    poorjimsvintage said 5 years ago

    give it to the birds.

  • heatherstephenson

    heatherstephenson said 5 years ago

    great article was just admiring the nuthatch outside this afternoon

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 5 years ago

    Maybe birds remind us of freedom?

  • marasdesigns

    marasdesigns said 5 years ago

    thanks, i love to feed the birds.

  • vboriginals

    vboriginals said 5 years ago

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

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 5 years ago

    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.

  • earthnskystudio

    earthnskystudio said 5 years ago

    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!

  • designsbyJess

    designsbyJess said 5 years ago

    Love my backyard birds!

  • BackyardBrand

    BackyardBrand said 5 years ago

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

  • natskreations

    natskreations said 5 years ago

    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!!

  • ScotlandUK

    ScotlandUK said 5 years ago

    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

  • TheHappyAcorn

    TheHappyAcorn said 5 years ago

    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.

  • frommylifetoyours

    frommylifetoyours said 5 years ago

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

  • NaturesCubbyhole

    NaturesCubbyhole said 5 years ago

    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!

  • BirdhousesByGlenn

    BirdhousesByGlenn said 5 years ago

    Great article, love the birds!

  • OliveSomeday

    OliveSomeday said 5 years ago

    these are great images!

  • tfamily5

    tfamily5 said 5 years ago

    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.

  • ornithologie

    ornithologie said 5 years ago

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

  • dearpumpernickel

    dearpumpernickel said 5 years ago

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

  • kidlee

    kidlee said 5 years ago

    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!

  • camilladesigns

    camilladesigns said 5 years ago

    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.

  • SewMuchMoreDecor

    SewMuchMoreDecor said 5 years ago

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

  • CoyoteChy

    CoyoteChy said 5 years ago

    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!

  • randomosity

    randomosity said 5 years ago

    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: 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!

  • shop1848

    shop1848 said 5 years ago

    Wonderful article! Great images!

  • MontclairMade

    MontclairMade said 5 years ago

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

  • girliepains

    girliepains said 5 years ago

    Will have to repost!

  • 111collagedesign

    111collagedesign said 5 years ago

    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!

  • emerald3358

    emerald3358 said 5 years ago

    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.

  • Hollyrocks

    Hollyrocks said 5 years ago

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

  • arsniccandy

    arsniccandy said 5 years ago

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

  • ForsythiaHill

    ForsythiaHill said 5 years ago

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

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias said 5 years ago

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

  • EternalLove12

    EternalLove12 said 5 years ago

    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. : )

  • finefeatheredfinds

    finefeatheredfinds said 5 years ago

    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!

  • debbiehillsgarden

    debbiehillsgarden said 5 years ago

    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!

  • mofunkdesigns

    mofunkdesigns said 5 years ago

    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.

  • Heavenlytreasures123

    Heavenlytreasures123 said 5 years ago

    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!

  • frecklesoriginals

    frecklesoriginals said 5 years ago

    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

  • samsstuff

    samsstuff said 5 years ago

    Interesting & informative article!

  • GalleonGal

    GalleonGal said 5 years ago

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

  • BRHDesigns

    BRHDesigns said 5 years ago

    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.

  • Bumbleweedz

    Bumbleweedz said 5 years ago

    sweet tweet

  • PrettyLoot

    PrettyLoot said 5 years ago

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

  • artropology

    artropology said 5 years ago

    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.

  • AKingsThings

    AKingsThings said 5 years ago

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

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