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October 04. 2013 11:22PM

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: New book 'Bird Homes and Habitats' highly recommended

Whether you wish to attract birds to visit your new feeder, take up residence in a birdhouse, or would simply enjoy birds around your home, an excellent book entitled "Bird Homes and Habitats" (book three in the Peterson Field Guides/Bird Watcher's Digest Backyard Bird Guides series) has recently been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is now available.

Author Bill Thompson III, recognized as an authority in the bird world, has, in addition to the latest, written several other important books including "Hummingbirds and Butterflies" (with Connie Toops) and "Identifying and Feeding Birds." Bill's "day job" is editor of my favorite magazine, "The Bird Watcher's Digest."

"Bird Homes and Habitats" is written in a conversational style and reads as if Bill was visiting with you on your deck or porch. It is not only a "how to" book, but it also explains the "why" of the topics covered. For example: A diamond merchant usually begins a possible sale by discussing the four "C's" of his product, color, cut, clarity, and carat. In his book, Bill opens with the four necessities that all birds require: food, water, shelter, and a place to nest. Next, he answers the question: "Why welcome birds?"

Bill writes about birds that you may choose to shelter, such as purple martins, wrens, bluebirds, chickadees, swallows, and many, many, more. Bird box plans, as well as written instructions as how to build them, are included for the birds previously listed, as well as birds that usually nest in tree hollows, but will use specially designed nest boxes if they are made available. With respect to nesting, if proper plantings have been developed, many other birds will build their nests near houses and within gardens. Developing a good habitat for birds is discussed in a chapter with the intriguingly interesting title: "The Birdy Backyard All-Stars."

Bill explains: "... this chapter profiles several bird gardeners from across North America ... each one of them has devoted a lot of time and effort to turning their property into bird-friendly habitats. These backyards are scattered all across the U.S. and come in all shapes, size and settings — from small suburban plots to large pieces of rural acreage. I have surveyed and interviewed these all-stars to gain some insight into their birds of bird paradise."

This chapter is a great opportunity to compare other folks' efforts to find out what has worked and what has not. Each of these backyards has been noted as to which USDA Plant Hardiness Zone they are located in, information that is important when selecting plants that you would like to plant and watch grow. It will take time to create an admirable habitat to attract birds around your home.

I am pleased to highly recommend "Bird Homes and Habitats," published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, released Sept. 10, 2013; 224 pages, soft cover, $14.95, now available at booksellers.

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In our column of Aug. 31, we reported that a Kingston reader-friend had phoned to say that a pair of red-tailed hawks that nested near his farm had followed him as he traveled with his farm equipment to a neighbor's field to do work. The hawks watched the field for mice or other food that might be exposed. Recently our reader-friend telephoned to say that coyotes now follow along as did the hawks, and for the same reason. He said that while he worked the fields the coyotes came very close to his tractor wheels, showing no fear whatsoever.

Our reader-friend also mentioned owning a clay bank on which a large number of sundews were growing. Sundews are parasitic plants that feed upon insects that fly into their blooms and are trapped in the sticky hairs designed for that purpose. The plants gain protein from the insects to add to the normal diet they receive from the poor mineral soil they grow in. I am not familiar with sundews, but am with the flowering pitcher plant, another parasitic "wildflower" that grows in boggy and marshy areas near small ponds.

Our reader enclosed a photograph and information (computer generated, source unknown) in a follow-up letter that read in part: "Sundews comprise one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants with at least 194 species. The trapping and digestion mechanism usually employs two types of glands, stalked glands that create sweet mucilage to attract and ensnare insects, and enzymes to digest them and sessile glands that absorb the resulting nutrient soup. All species of sundews are able to move their tentacles in response to contact with digestible prey. The tentacles are extremely sensitive and will bend toward the center of the leaf to bring the insect into contact with as many stalked glands as possible. C. Darwin wrote: 'The contact of the legs of a small gnat with one tentacle induces a response.'"

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.


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