According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, more than 100 studies have shown that getting close to nature reduces stress for both children and adults. And, one way to commune with nature is to invite birds into your back yard, either with feeders or with plants that provide them with nourishment and cover.
On November 8th, the 2008-2009 season of Project Feederwatch gets underway, and you (and/or your children) may want to take part. All you need to do is count the numbers and types of birds at your feeders each week and send the info to Cornell. This year's bird-counting season runs through April 3, 2009. More than 40 thousand people have submitted information to the Ornithology Lab since the project started in 1987. It helps scientists track bird movements and populations.
Last year alone, the scientists noted the largest southward movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the history of the project, likely because birds fly farther south when their food supplies run short. Other birds flying south in record numbers included Common Repoils and Pine Siskins -- and a Mexican native, a Streak-backed Oriole, showed up in Colorado.
The project benefits we humans as well as the birds. Cornell professor Nancy Wells says that "nature is critical to healthy human development and functioning." Her studies have found that viewing nature either through a window or being outside improves a child's cognitive functioning and reduces stress on the child's psychological well-being. Wells also found that children who spend time with nature are likely to do so as well when they are adults.
To sign up for the project, go to the website or call 800-843-2473.
Some plants you may want to consider that attract birds:
Trees: Sugar Maple, Serviceberry, White Pine, American, Inkberry, and Yaupon Holly, Southern Red Cedar, Cabbage Palm, Hackberry, Pecan, River Birch, Cottonwood, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Western Red Cedar, Mountain Ash.
Shrubs: Viburnum, Elderberry, Winterberry, Bayberry,Blueberry, Florida Privet, Pigeon Berry, Snowberry, Chokecherry, Manzanitas.
There are many more bird-attracting plants. One good sourcebook I often use is from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Bird Gardens (21st-Century Gardening Series.
(image: Lyn Winans, Project Feederwatch)