For the Birds

My closest and grandest new neighbor is an old weeping willow, winter home to a zillion small birds. I’ve seen half a dozen acorn woodpeckers on the branching trunks at once. Many LBBs (little brown birds) whose names I don’t know. And my favorites to listen to all day, the red-winged blackbirds. Not just early morning and evening singers, the blackbirds talk all day long in this tree, between synchronized murmurations across the fields.willowinwinter

Naturally I start thinking about feeding them. Not putting out feeders, but planting seeds of bird-food plants that can naturalize here, along the road or out back of the house. Food for years to come. I’ll wait for a time when rain is at least a hint of a possibility. May it be soon, as we begin 2014 sunny and dry after the driest California year on record. Good soil here in Potter Valley– what a place to be not gardening. I can just scatter seed, rake it, and stomp it.

My basic mix will be sunflower, sorghum, and millet, with fennel added for butterfly food. Sunflower will be the most likely to thrive with just the extra water that drains off the road. You’ve seen this sunflower or its close cousin along roadsides all over the West, tall and widely branching, many-flowered, cheerful and optimistic as all heck. I’m calling it (Mostly) California Native Sunflower in the interest of full disclosure. Black-Seeded Sorghum is also a vigorous reseeder, but wants more water to make a big seed head. Since I have lots of seed I’ll risk it – plus I can water it. Limelight Millet is less likely to naturalize, more likely to be crowded out by more robust species. Maybe I’ll plant a more domesticated spot for back-up – so ornamental, maybe right by the front door.

So you may more easily try a birdseed patch, here’s a For the Birds kit of seeds: double packs of sunflower, sorghum and millet. $12 (for seeds that would cost $18 if purchased separately). Still free shipping.

All these are also great poultry treats. The millet is tasty for humans (according to growers’ reports; I haven’t yet tried it), and the sorghum can be milled for flour (also an abstract bit of info). Leave the sunflowers for the birds, who have the equipment to shell them or to digest them whole.