Backyard Birdwatching, Enhanced by Mini-Habitat Planning,
with an Application of Romans 13:7
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Render therefore to all their dues:
tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom;
fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:7)
Christian birdwatchers have a wonderful freedom (and responsibility), due to the principle of Romans 13:7 – the duty to give credit where credit is due – and one application of that principle is that, as Biblical creationists, we can appreciate the valuable accomplishments contributed by ornithologists, even if those ornithologists are Bible-rejecting evolutionists, such as Roger Tory Peterson and George H. Harrison. Simply stated, Romans 13:7 requires us to give credit where credit is due.
George H. Harrison with binoculars (BIRD AND BLOOMS)
Looking at an issue of BIRDS AND BLOOMS reminded me of how I have repeatedly appreciated the birdwatching expertise of George H. Harrison, an American ornithologist, whose valuable contribution to the world far exceeds that of any guitarist-lyricist-mystic who formerly used that same name.
In fact, ornithologist George Harrison teamed up with another birdwatching titan, Roger Tory Peterson, in a videotape that I formally used (when I taught “Ornithology and Avian Conservation” at Dallas Christian College), called “George Harrison’s Birds of the Backyard: Winter Into Spring” (Window on the World Video, 1989).
Perhaps two of the best-known names in American birdwatching are Roger Tory Peterson, author (and sometimes co-author) of the “Peterson Field Guides” series (published by Houghton Mifflin) and George H. Harrison (whom I first encountered as a subscriber to BIRDS AND BLOOMS magazine).
One of the most practical birdwatching books that I have ever read is George Harrison’s classic, THE BACKYARD BIRD WATCHER: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR ENJOYING WILD BIRDS AT YOUR BACK DOOR (Simon & Schuster 1979).
Recently I found a blog interview of Harrison, on the National Wildlife Federation’s blog [ http://blog.nwf.org ], reporting how that book came to be written.
GEORGE H. HARRISON knew he was on to something. While serving as managing editor of National Wildlife in 1972, he heard about two U.S. Forest Service researchers in Massachusetts who were studying ways to convert suburban yards into mini-habitats for birds and other wild creatures. “Their study showed that the same basic principles wildlife managers had been using for decades—providing food, water, cover and places to raise young—worked beautifully on a smaller scale in backyards,” says Harrison.
He convinced the two researchers, Richard DeGraaf and Jack Ward Thomas, to write an article describing the steps homeowners could take to create such habitats. That article, “Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard” in the April/May 1973 issue of National Wildlife, helped provide the basis for NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® program, which celebrates its 38th anniversary [in AD2011, so the Certified Wildlife Habitatprogram is 44 years old as of AD2017].
Kelly: John Strohm, then editor of National Wildlife, called the article “one of the most significant articles we’ve ever published.” Why do you think the article was important?
George: The whole concept that suburbanites and urbanites could have a backyard filled with birds and other wildlife awakened people’s need to be closer to nature. It was a timely article because in the 1970s the American public had realized that our planet was in trouble (the first Earth Day, etc.) and that nature was no longer a part of their world. “Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard” opened a whole new opportunity for people, especially families, to interact with wildlife at close range, just outside their windows. For most people, it was—and still is—the one and only way to see nature and relate to wildlife.
Kelly: How did the article change the way you garden?
George: Though I had been feeding birds in my backyard since I was a child (we were a nature family), the concepts of increasing the kinds and volume of birds and animals in my environment by providing food, cover and water caused me to design my own model backyard wildlife habitat. I am Certified Wildlife Habitat® #604. I have since designed backyard habitats in private and institutional locations.
Kelly: You’re the author of The Backyard Bird Watcher and other books for wildlife enthusiasts. When you meet people new to wildlife gardening, wondering how to get started, what advice or encouragement do you give them?
George: The easiest way to get started learning and appreciating wildlife is to establish your own backyard wildlife habitat. You can start small with a couple of bird feeders, a bird bath and some potted evergreens. If you group those three items outside a favorite window in your house, birds and other wildlife will come, I promise you.
Kelly: Why do you think the Certified Wildlife Habitat® program remains relevant today?
George: With each passing year, young people are removed farther and farther from the natural world. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv documents how children are living lives that are more distant from nature than ever before in our history. Involving kids in the process of creating habitat is a way to reverse this trend.
George H. Harrison is an award-winning nature writer and photographer whose accomplishments include authoring 13 books, hosting six PBS television specials and helping to start Birds & Blooms magazine. While working at National Wildlife Federation, he served as both managing editor and field editor of National Wildlife.
[Quoting from Kelly Senser, “Habitat Chat with George H. Harrison”, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION’S BLOG, posted at http://blog.nwf.org/2011/01/habitat-chat-with-george-h-harrison/ .]
Interestingly, I recall having set up a wildlife mini-habitat, during the AD1990s (when I lived in a different part of Denton County, Texas), based on the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, which I learned about as a subscriber to NATIONAL WILDLIFE magazine.
It was during that timeframe that I provided sunflower seeds (and other kinds of birdfeed) to my backyard birds, as illustrated by this poem:
BACKYARD BIRDS AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS
( © AD1997 James J. S. Johnson, used by permission )
Seeing hungry backyard birds I filled a tray with seeds;
Sparrows, juncos dined in “herds”, and jays arrived to feed;
Even cardinals, flashing red: they came, they saw, they fed.
Bills gulped! seed-hulls popped!
Some seeds spilled! some seeds dropped!
Overhead, as some bird flew, sunflower seeds did fall;
From green vines, they later grew, seedlings, green and small.
Then out popped golden faces Coloring grassy spaces;
Like baby suns of yellow, Grinning — saying “hello”!
On green stalks they climb, aiming to greet the sky;
Seed-packed in their prime, picked by birds, going by.
Thus reaps my yard what jays did sow,
New seeds, from old, sunflowers grow.
Watch I, and think on what God made
How He designed such “mutual aid”…
In my backyard, I must surmise:
The Lord, Who did this, He is wise!
[Quoting from “Here’s Seed for Thought”, including poem entitled “Backyard Birds and Sunflower Seeds”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/07/04/heres-seed-for-thought/ .]
Now that I live elsewhere, in a different part of Denton County (Texas), I still host a backyard bird habitat, although this one has never been registered with the National Wildlife Federation’s program (maybe I should do that?).
Since our more-than-an-acre homestead includes part of a pond (which we share with neighbors), we have the requisite water to attract ducks, geese, egrets, herons, and other wildfowl.
Our trees and bushes supply food, shelter, and nesting sites to a mix of passerines including year-round resident cardinals, blue jays, and mockingbirds, as well as mourning doves (just to name a few).
Flock of perching “winter Texan” Cedar Waxwings (Steven Schwartzman photo)
Stopover migrants, such as Cedar Waxwings, also make use of trees (and berries, such as cedar berries) in our yard, as they pass through our part of Texas, twice a year. [See “Cedar Waxwings: Winter Texas Snack on Bugs and Berries”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/04/05/cedar-waxwings-winter-texans-snack-on-bugs-and-berries/ .]
Trumpet Vine “wall” (acultivatednest.com image)
Furthermore, these habitat features are supplemented by our fence-line’s flowering trumpet vine “thicket” (e.g., see “Busy Spectators, Oblivious to Hummingbirds”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/09/14/busy-spectators-oblivious-to-hummingbirds/ ). In fact, local lizards and other wild critters constitute enough food to attract an occasional roadrunner, hawk, or kestrel, so our homeplace really is a “backyard (and front-yard, and side-yard) habitat” for wild birds, both residents and migrants.
Hummingbird at Trumpet Vine blossom (Mike Lentz image)
So there you (or, I should say, the local birds), have it: “food, water, cover, and places to raise young” – the key ingredients needed for attracting wild birds to settle in and around our formerly-rural-but-now-more-suburban homeplace.
It’s good that I recently planted another juniper tree – some birds should benefit.
Of course, when we consider our obligation (under Romans 13:7, in conjunction with Romans chapter 1) to give credit where it is due, our ultimate duty – as birdwatchers, and as human creatures – is to give God credit for making (and providing habitat for) all of creation, including ourselves, as well as all birds and other creatures.
That even applies to giving God credit for what He has put into our avian neighbors, such as Mourning Doves (see “The Ghost Army”, illustratively citing Romans 13:7 & Isaiah 38:14, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/ghost-army ).
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power:
for Thou hast created all things,
and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.
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