People interested in observing birds needn't tromp along the trails beside lagoons or steal through the chaparral. Birds have been hanging out around us and picking up the crumbs left behind since the beginning of human history.
With a little effort and planning, back yards can attract a huge variety of winged visitors and residents.
The elements of attraction include a combination of flora (vines, shrubs, flowers, trees and ground covers), food and a source of water. Plants that provide edible seeds or nuts or fruits are most popular with birds.
Choosing supplemental food depends somewhat on the type of birds that will be eating it, but most eat a widely varied diet. In fact, pet birds' lives are often shortened considerably when fed a steady diet of store-bought seed preparations.
Active back-yard birders often experiment with an exotic collection of offerings such as sunflower kernels, bacon drippings, dried fruit and suet. One North County couple makes marble-size balls of hamburger and rolls them along the patio for a friendly road runner, who pounces on them as if they were fleeing mice. He now knocks on their sliding glass door with his beak when he's hungry.
A number of commercial feeders, baths and birdhouses are available, but a milk carton or a wide-mouthed jar can be just as attractive to a hungry bird, a pie tin or saucer to a thirsty one. A bicycle basket mounted on the side of the house makes as habitable a home as the expensive prefabricated type. Offerings of materials such as dental floss, dried sphagnum moss, yarn and string are often snapped up at nesting time.
Some protection can be provided from predators, the family pet or otherwise. When birdhouses are mounted on posts instead of trees or if sheet metal is wrapped around tree trunks, climbing becomes difficult to impossible.
In his book "The Backyard Bird Watcher," George Harrison warns that, despite every precaution, trauma is often unavoidable. He also has advice for birders in tough situations:
* Baby birds that have fallen from the nest should be returned if at all possible. Despite the almost universally held belief, the parents will not abandon or kill a baby handled by a human.
* Since most people lack the knowledge to care for an injured animal, they should hand it over to one of the local wildlife rescue groups. Project Wildlife volunteers can be reached by calling 692-9453, the Wildlife Center by calling 291-4587.
* When birds hit windows--a common occurrence--most will recover if handled properly. Many are only momentarily stunned and fly off soon. Others can be protected by placing a kitchen sieve upside down over them until they regain their equilibrium.
* Lonely-looking baby birds that are capable of flight should be left alone. Their parents are probably nearby, and they are far more capable of raising their young than even the most helpful of humans.