These gifts for bird watchers are sure to fly
(published 12-2-04)

For a birder, the best presents are those that money can’t buy. Like a backyard owl on Christmas Eve, or a redpoll at the feeder the next morning. Events such as these would clinch a happy holiday for anybody who appreciates birds.

But just in case, you’d better have a back-up plan. Here are 10 gift ideas for serious and casual bird watchers alike:

-- A second field guide. It really helps to have a second resource, especially when confronted with an identification challenge. I refer to the Peterson, Sibley and National Geographic guides all the time. Each book has unique strengths.

-- Binoculars. This is a sensitive gift choice. Like neckties for men, it’s best to let birders choose their own optics. That said, a good pair of binoculars is potentially the most useful and most appreciated gift you can bestow. And every birder needs a reliable secondary pair. But unless you know exactly what the birder wants, buy a gift certificate.

-- A new feeder. Consider a specialty feeder that will help attract more species. A tube-style thistle feeder will draw goldfinches and pine siskins, or go with a peanut feeder to serve chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. If choosing a hummingbird feeder, look for a durable design—many glass ones are beautiful works of art but not very practical.

-- Heated birdbath. Fresh water is a backyard magnet for birds any time of year, especially during winter. Cleaning and filling is a chore when it’s frigid outside but the results will justify the effort.

-- Bird seed storage container. Not a glamorous gift, I know, but keeping seed dry, fresh and safe from garage critters is important. Select a container designed specifically for this purpose. Mine is heavy-duty plastic with an airtight lid and holds 25 pounds of seed. If you give one of these, fill it up with black-oil sunflower seeds and maybe bury a surprise.

-- Bird song CDs. Identification becomes a lot easier when you learn the songs and call notes. And those who know them tend to find more birds. The Peterson “Birding by Ear” series is excellent.

-- A good book. This was a banner year for birders who like to read. Amazingly, three full-length biographies on John James Audubon appeared. Two other new books tell the sad but fascinating story of the ivory-billed woodpecker. And birders are still talking about “The Big Year.” It’s highly entertaining, and also recommended for non-birder spouses who need to realize that birding obsessions are truly a matter of degree. “The Birdwatcher’s Companion” is another recent title worth investigating.

-- Memberships. The ones I think of first are the DuPage Birding Club and Kane County Audubon. Either club will open doors to new birding adventures and new friends who are eager to share the hobby. Or how about The Morton Arboretum? It’s one of this area’s best birding spots and the new visitor center makes it better than ever.

-- Magazines. You couldn’t go wrong by giving a subscription to Bird Watcher’s Digest or Birder’s World. Each is published six times a year.

-- Bird-a-day calendar. I love these things. Along with great photos, they offer interesting facts about common species and introduce us to exotic ones. The featured species on Sept. 25, for example, was East Africa’s bare-faced go-away bird. I quickly added that one to my running list of favorite bird names. Right after superb fairy wren.

I hope that your holidays are equally superb, and that you take some time to enjoy the birds!

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who became hooked on birding about 10 years ago. He can be reached at

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