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home : columns : columns May 26, 2016

2/11/2014 1:04:00 PM
Sisters is for the birds
The cash bird of Sisters, the white-headed woodpecker. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
The cash bird of Sisters, the white-headed woodpecker. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

If anyone says to you, "Sisters is for the birds!" you can believe it. Every time there's ice and/or snow on the sidewalks around City Hall there is a sudden influx of seed-eating birds. Why? Because the city doesn't believe in using salt, sand, or environmentally unfriendly anti-skid/snow melt stuff on the sidewalks. The public works people use just plain old black sunflower birdseed.

Now I know there may be those people in Sisters Country right at this moment who are exclaiming, "What! That's nuts!" No, it's not. It is about as natural as you can get. Birds eat the seeds, then birds poop natural fertilizer on the lawns (ask anyone with a juniper tree how well the wintering robins decorate cars parked outside). The seeds break down and also become fertilizer for lawns and shrubs when the sun comes out and ice and snow turns to water.

Salts of all kinds are the ruination of the underside of motor vehicles, outdoor clothing doesn't like it, and it's hard on skin. Salt is about the most unnatural substance you can throw on snow and ice to melt it quickly, and to avoid slipping and sliding.

Grass, shrubs and trees do not enjoy some types of chemicals coming into contact with their tender roots.

Then, too, City Hall and the library are too close to Whychus Creek to fool around with chemicals that could run off into the creek.

On top of that, the liquid ice-melt runs about $120 for four gallons. There's also 5-gallons of Ice Melt crystals for $13, or $35 for 50-pounds; while you can buy a 45-pound bag of natural black sunflower seeds in the hulls for around $30.

Who knows what you're spreading around when you toss the dry ice melt or squirt the liquid stuff on your sidewalk, but you know for sure the sunflower seeds will be just as good an anti-skid substance to help stop you from sliding off on your you-know-what.

The REALLY good part is it provides our local dicky-bird population with a little extra food when they need it most.

While the public works folks use straight sunflower seeds, the library (right next door) uses a bird food mix with millet and other seeds to make it more anti-skid effective, and at that same time, provide the local bird population with a more diversified diet.

Oh sure, there's a drawback to this wonderful boon for the birds: outdoor cats, stray cats, and feral cats probably think they've died and gone to heaven with such a diversity of birds to kill. This is particularly bothersome, as crossbills, grosbeaks, finches, chickadees and such are all protected by state and federal laws. You cannot kill them legally, but your cat can with impunity.

Imagine when out-of-town visitors - such as a retired couple - come to Sisters looking or information about moving here. They ask the person who waited on them at one of the restaurants, or stores, where City Hall is. As they pull into the parking lot a flock of house finches, mixed in with a big bunch of crossbills, grosbeaks and jaunty littler chickadees leap up in front of them like a welcoming committee.

If the visitors happen to be birders, they grab up their binoculars, forget why they pulled into the parking lot, and are off on a birding delight. If they happen to come from a part of the world where crossbills are scarce, the public works people have hit a home run.

There's a plan afoot to place nesting boxes in appropriate locations throughout city property. If Nicole Montalvo, Sisters public works operations coordinator, can get the whole scheme together, there's a good chance she may have the premier and most-looked-for bird in Sisters Country - the white-headed woodpecker - nesting in natural-looking nesting boxes right in town.

For those of you who aren't in the birding world (how sorry I am for you), that particular woodpecker is the high-roller of birds round here. Dedicated bird folks from all over the world, literally, come here to see it and place it on the Birder's Life List.

Birders have all taken people from worldwide locations to see the remarkably beautiful white-headed woodpecker. I have had the pleasure of showing them to birders from France, England, and as far way as Idaho.

So, the next time you visit the library, bring along your binoculars and camera. Sure, you'll go home with one of your favorite books, but at the same time, you may place a bird on your Life List that you've been looking for for a long time.

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