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Friday, January 19, 2018

Out with the politics and bad news and in with the songbirds of spring

If the sometimes nasty competition between candidates Greg Gianforte and Rob Quist was for the birds, some thoughts on Montana birds themselves might be in order to let folks recuperate from that hard-fought campaign for the U.S. House seat.

Judging from what’s been showing up at our bird feeders and in the countryside, this has been a boom year for songbirds across Montana, in contrast to a rather tepid season last year.

Here in Livingston, in western Montana, bird lovers have been seeing a plethora of seasonal songsters, from the usual to the exotic: Western meadowlarks, redwing blackbirds, white-crowned sparrows, goldfinches, warblers, towhees, pine siskins, lazuli buntings, evening grosbeaks, black-headed grosbeaks, hermit thrushes, Western tanagers, gray catbirds, chirping sparrows and even red-naped sapsuckers.

Meanwhile, bird lovers in eastern Montana are seeing many of the same birds plus an abundance of mountain bluebirds.

Lew Melby, vice president of Friends of Makoshika Park and a volunteer renowned for his tireless efforts to support the park’s mountain bluebird population, reports a large number of bluebirds this spring. Melby, who sets up houses for the birds, said as many as 120 could fledge this year.

Even if you’re not a bird lover, spotting a flash of florescent bluebird blue or the melted-crayon kaleidoscope of a Western tanager can lift the spirit in a world of political campaigns, sour Washington news and suicide bombings.

But Montana songbirds need all the help they can get to keep coming back. Follow Melby’s example and do your part, whether its putting out bluebird houses or doing some simple things to keep Montana a hospitable place for songbirds, such as:

• Keep feeders and bird baths clean to prevent the spread of diseases, like an infectious eye disease that has hit some house finches. 

• Help prevent bird window strikes by placing feeders either very close to windows, such as on a window frame, or very far away from windows.

• Most critically, prevent cat predation. Bird experts say cats are the number one killer of birds in the United States.

• Lastly, support habitat conservation efforts for songbirds.

So enjoy this spring as our songbirds congregate, and for a few moments forget all the bad news with a songbird’s trill.

— Dwight Harriman

Yellowstone Newspapers

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