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Spring is finally here.

It's a time of renewal for nature and for those who revel in nature, for sportsmen and for those that like to watch wildlife.

Certain patterns are ritualistic in our little corner of Hot Spring County. Miss Laura's daffodil patch is in bloom right on time. Now that the front yard is festooned in golden crowns, she can finally quit badgering me about where I can and can't walk, and where wheels can and cannot roll. Pre-bloom violations were misdemeanors. They are now felonies.

Goldfinches have been in the neighborhood since at least early February when I started feeding them. I am astonished at how quickly they identify a food source. Before I started feeding, there was scarcely a bird in the vicinity. We were covered up with them within hours of filling the feeder.

I've learned a few things about feeding birds over the years. One is that black oil sunflower seed is the perfect one-size-fits-all bird food. All birds love it, even bluejays.

I tried mixes containing millet, sunflower seed and various other things. I noticed that birds always ate the sunflower seeds first while the millet and other ingredients often piled up under the feeder and spoiled.

My second observation is a corollary to the second part of the last sentence. If you watch birds at a feeder, what do they do? They kick a lot of feed onto the ground or sweep it out with their bills. It piles up under the feeders.

Furthermore, feeders create a lot of discord because it's easier for dominant birds to control access to concentrated feed. That provokes a lot of fighting and fosters a chaotic dining environment for our guests.

Also, since a few birds control the pile beneath the feeder, it takes them a long time to clean it up after the feeder is empty, and I don't refill it until they do.

Lately, instead of filling a feeder exclusively, I also fling generous amounts of seed over a wide area in the yard. This arrangement separates the birds, and they can dine at their leisure. There's a whole lot less squabbling, and all of the birds seem more relaxed.

This arrangement also attracts more birds. I have counted more than 80 goldfinches in our yard at once, dozens of dark-eyed juncos, dozens of purple finches, a dozen or so Carolina chickadees, three pair of cardinals, several bluejays, a good number of song sparrows, and up to about 20 mourning doves.

Bluebirds have also returned, and I have tidied up the Birdie Bed & Breakfast for their nesting season.

My daughter Hannah built the Birdie Bed & Breakfast for my birthday. It contradicts everything I've read about what a bluebird nesting box should be, but bluebirds fledged two clutches of chicks in it last year.

I had to do some remodeling to make the sale, though. Hannah's architectural vision employs generous amounts of natural light, so she built the house with windows on every side, plus a skylight. I had to seal them all up except for one entrance.

Before the remodel, tire-kicking bluebirds visited daily. They flitted in and out, inspected the appliances, inquired about the schools and argued about the floor plan. Within hours of my sealing the holes, they were bringing in nesting materials.

On the back of the house is a generational wren nest built atop a dysfunctional outdoor light fixture. I can't begin to guess how many wrens have fledged from that nest, but there's no doubt it's the safest place on the property. It's right above the place where our dogs love to lounge, so predators don't dare come near.

Later, we look forward to the arrival of two of our most esteemed guests, the summer tanager family. We keep a rusty old bicycle just for them because they love to perch on the handlebars.

It won't be long before hummingbirds arrive, too.

Oddly, all of our neighbors have mockingbirds, but I have never seen one on our property.

Speaking of trees, my favorite plum tree started blooming in late February, as usual. I've lost every crop to late frosts. Last year at this time I misted the blossoms every night if frost was forecast. It worked until I had to go on the road for a few days.

If a tree doesn't have any better sense than to bloom in February, then to heck with it.

Sports on 03/08/2018

Print Headline: Springtime is for the birds

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