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Phil Hardy: A birder’s Christmas shopping list

It’s almost time for Santa Claus to load up his sleigh and make his annual house call to good boys and girls around the world. Ol’ St. Nick may even visit many of the parents and adults, too. Which got me to thinking — what do birders want for Christmas? Allow me to present a few  ideas.
• Hummingbird feeder. Everyone seems to be in love with our smallest bird. Their acrobatic antics entertain us for hours. And hanging a sugar-water feeder near a window or on your porch is a sure way to attract them during the spring and summer. The hummingbird feeder I use almost exclusively is called Best-1. The number one priority for me when I purchase a hummingbird feeder is ease of cleaning. Keeping your sugar-water feeder spotlessly clean is of critical importance for the health of the bird. Think about it: our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds bless us with their presence during our warmest time of the year. Feeders with sugar water, in our hot and humid climate, will ferment and grow mildew rapidly if not regularly cleaned and any unused liquid changed out every few days. The Best-1 sugar-water feeders are the easiest to clean of all the feeders I have tried. They come in 8- and 32-ounce sizes and replacement parts are available should you lose or break a part. I buy mine at The Bird Store in Macon. They are also available through amazon.com.
• Interactive books about birds. A great book I own is called Bird Songs From Around the World by Les Beletsky. It features 200 birds from all over the planet. The reader can press an interactive button on the back page of the book and actually hear the song or call of that particular species. It is powered by two AA batteries. Thanks to the massive inventory of animal sounds from the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the reader can hear the song with the push of a button. This would make a great gift for a child or young person that may show an interest in birds. The brightly colored and (many) unusual birds are nicely illustrated on each page with descriptions.
A nice companion book by the same author is Bird Songs, 250 North American Birds in Song. This volume obviously deals with birds found on the North American continent.  Both books are available at bookstores or amazon.com.
• Field guide. How about a nice field guide for the bird enthusiast? Field guides are especially helpful when trying to identify that unusual bird you may see at your backyard feeder or elsewhere. There are many field guides to choose from. Some feature actual photographs of the bird while others are illustrated by artists. The better field guides will show the bird in different plumages and ages.
I own many field guides but my favorite is The Sibley Guide to Birds by The National Audubon Society. Written and illustrated by ornithologist David Allen Sibley, the author points out tips on how to identify many birds by their behavior. Range maps of the different species are indispensable is helping with identification as well. This guide is available in either Eastern or Western birds or you may want to get the somewhat larger edition that covers all of North America like I did.
• Optics. Do you need a binocular or possibly a better binocular? Optics have come a long way in my life time. The expression “you get what you pay for,” is especially true in optics. Binoculars come in two forms: roof prism and porro prism. My advice is to buy the roof prism model for better quality. Some manufacturers offer life-time warranties.
A basic rule of thumb to remember when buying a binocular is the more light coming into the user’s eye, the clearer and brighter the image will be. There are many other factors to consider as well. Consider a bird watching binocular of at least 7.5 x 42 power.
For everything you ever wanted to know about binoculars, go to www.eagleoptics.com and click the “learn” tab at the top of the home page.
So kids, get your letters ready to send to the North Pole and hopefully include something for the bird watcher in your family. And you parents, you may even want to tell Santa what you want as well. Good birding to all and to all a good night!
– Phil Hardy, a bird watcher and bird photographer, lives in Americus.