Critics and allies of this author’s columns might be surprised that I write about more than politics. With my own last name, the irony of being a “birder” or “bird watcher” has not been lost on friends and family, ever since I was 14 years old in the Midwest. The “Little Old Ladies” of the local Audubon chapter knew of my love for the outdoors and asked me to join.

Amazingly, my teen-age buddies and brothers also found the monthly field trips exciting, edifying, filled with playful good humor and expertise. The annual Christmas bird census was a highlight of slow driving and tromping around our rural Illinois county, picking out hawk species merely by their flight patterns, walking along creek bottoms and asking permission from farmers to investigate their stables and corrals. The end of the day brought a great potluck and a tabulation, filled with oohs and aahs, as unusual sightings were made by other teams: owls, giant pileated woodpeckers and lingering summer birds were considered gems.

Cabin fever time is here in Alaska, and for those wanting to brighten the immediate vicinity of their home or apartment, get down to a feed or box store and buy some bird feeding equipment and food. It doesn’t cost much, there are many different types to choose from, find the right location on your property, and then settle back from the comfort of your own chair or window and watch the show.

A feed store will likely have the best advice to offer. Different nuts, seeds and milled grains will attract different birds. Suet will also do the same. Aside from the usual rendered fat, you can obtain peanut butter bricks and fruity concoctions that will not melt in rain or warm weather.

You might be surprised to find birds you never knew existed around here. The most colorful ones will be waxwings and pine grosbeaks. The waxwings gorge on over-wintering berries and once they are picked off in a vicinity, they might be gone for good. But the grosbeaks are the closest thing to a red cardinal, which do not inhabit Alaska. The female is equally striking, but different colored.

Various woodpeckers will show up, preferring suet, and the most likely being the Downy and Hairy. They appear identical except for size, with the Hairy the larger of the two. Only the males have a distinctive red patch on the back of their head.

Redpolls have graced my own feeders in the past few days. They are a sparrow-like bird and travel in huge flocks in the winter. For the past few days, they at first disdained the feeders and were eating birch tree “catkins,” the over-wintering hanging pollen clusters.

But oh, have they descended onto the feeders now! They attacked the thistle seeds which had been hanging untouched by any kind of birds for 6 months. And then went after the other feeders and suet. I had maybe 50 on hand at once yesterday afternoon, between the feeders and the seeds that had dropped to the deck.

When they went at it again, I went outside and did my Statue-of-Liberty imitation. NEVER look the birds in the eye, they know that is what a predator does just before pouncing.

Try standing with the seeds open-palms-up, holding them right next to two feeders. Sooner or later a brave individual will alight on the feeder right next to your hand, then followed by another, and before too long, they might be ALL OVER your hands.

I suspect I had maybe 10 different ones, jumping from feeder to palms and back again. 

It was a kick!

I have had nuthatches, chickadees and pine siskins in the past, but the redpolls are by far the most colorful of all the birds to get on my fingertips.

And it took only about two minutes to gain their confidence!

Get a good field book or illustrated chart that many feed stores carry. A pair of binoculars won’t hurt either, especially if your feeders are in the middle of a yard.

Birds can make it easy to enjoy the Great Outdoors from the Great Indoors in a long, cold, Alaskan winter. And it will be easy to see that God is an artist, not only with flowers, but with our fine feathered friends.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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The thrill of being a mid-winter Alaska bird nerd

Bob Bird
Bob Bird ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 and 2008. He is a past president of Alaska Right to Life, a 47-year Alaska resident and a retired public school teacher. He has a passion for studying and teaching Alaska and U.S. constitutional history. He lives on the Kenai Peninsula and is currently a daily radio talk-show host for The Talk of the Kenai, on KSRM 920 AM from 3-5 pm and heard online


  • Steve says:

    Thanks, Bob!
    I enjoyed these few moments of print-watching that are almost as fun as the bird views at the feeder out my kitchen window. It is a relief from today’s hellish national destruction out every other window to the world – digital ones especially. Your regular attempts to correct some sliver of our cultural slow-motion-train-wreck is appreciated – but so is this. This slice of life testifies that there is a Good Creator – who will enforce upon all that other stuff its appropriate demise and restore all His creation to its rightful reflection of Him. I know that such blatant “religiosity” makes a lot of our “libertarian” friends quite nervous – but they will get over it – and maybe enjoy the Creator’s demonstration of His Goodness with us.

  • micah says:

    “Right outside the lazy gate of winter’s summer home
    Wondering where the nuthatch winters
    Wings a mile long just carried the bird away”

    Great article!

  • Elizabeth Henry says:

    Great article! I love bird watching too but our house has big windows and we have a terrible problem with the smaller birds flying in to them. Our yard though is a robin sanctuary. For some reason the robins are not drawn into the windows. We manage our lawn without chemicals and it is rich with worms and other insects for the feeding birds. The lawn is sheltered by woods and outbuildings, providing much nesting opportunity all around, and robins seem to love it as every year we have numerous nesting pairs spending the season here. I love sitting in the window each morning with my coffee watching the robin antics. Binoculars also at the ready as typically we will have a decent view of a nest or two.

    • Lobo says:

      I have had some chickadees to occasionally, get into the back porch… It is a large glassed in area, and I sometimes think that they may see reflections of the feeders, the mountains, and the sky, in the glass. I go out, and open the back porch door, and slowly encourage them to fly back out. Fortunately, it isn’t a regular exercise.

  • Lobo says:

    Wildlife, and landscapes are my preferred subjects of photography .. I have captured several hundred gigabits, and if it were possible, I would share a few. The Nuthatch is one of my favorite feathered subjects.. Seemingly, not frightened with my close proximity. Hatcher Pass, and the valley are also pleasing to the eye.. I have moose, and foxes come into my yard. Goshawks, owls, Bald, and Golden eagles, along with territorial ravens… Perhaps, one day, this platform will have a system, capable of handling those types of images.. That will, however, require a “nice” investment.

  • Reggie Taylor says:

    Thanks for the cheerful article, Bob! I share your love for watching birds. During our winters, it is the black capped chickadees that brighten up my day with their beauty and free spirited visits. Recently I had to mount bird repellant discs on my house, though, because Woody the Woodpecker decided he had to get to the flies that winter in the crevices of our siding. This tends to occur almost every year in the fall, but this particular individual is persistent. So far, the flashy discs have worked great, and it hasn’t seemed to deter the activity at the feeder in the yard. We hope the discs will help reduce the bird collisions on the windows, too.