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Many Americans enjoy spending time with nature, and one popular activity is feeding wild birds.
As many as 53 million Americans feed birds as a hobby each year. One of them is Sumner Askin, from Arlington, Virginia. His interest started a few years ago, when he was in college and studying wildlife science.
"I had just taken this class, ornithology, the study of birds, and I was just super into it. And originally I got one feeder and I put it all the way up in this tree, I probably climbed like 30 feet so I could hang it right outside my window. And I got some cool stuff and I just wanted to keep going with it, see what else I could get."
His plan was successful, and many wild birds visited his bird feeder. He recalls seeing downy woodpeckers, northern cardinals, mourning doves, and other birds.
Askin says you can learn a lot from bird watching.
"You learn about just how each species is designed differently, like the way their toes are shaped so they can grip things differently."
Askins adds that most bird watchers develop a dislike for a lot of invasive, or non-native, species because they often chase around the other birds.
One example is the blue jay, a bird Askin says he actually likes.
Askin says, “Some people don't like the big blue jays because they're loud. But I like them. They are just big."
Askin says he uses several kinds of bird feeders around his home.
"Most birds like a small sparrow can't exactly stand on the side of a tree like a woodpecker can, because the woodpecker gets its toes there and just climbs up."
"The low-hanging feeder, a normal feeder, they sit on it and they turn sideways and they eat, but that one, they have to hang upside-down."
"So you can watch them just pivot completely upside down. And only two species can do that. So it's just for them instead of the non-native sparrows," Askin says.
Askin works part-time at a store called Wild Birds Unlimited. It sells seed, feeders and other supplies for people who like to feed birds.
Michael Zuiker has operated the store for 26 years. He says feeding birds is good for everyone. "Birders," people who like the animals, enjoy watching the birds, while the birds get food to survive in big cities and expanding population centers. Zuiker is not surprised the hobby is so popular.
"Gardening is the first," he noted, "backyard bird feeding second."
He added that a lot of teachers have programs where they create environments for birds in their schools. They do this to teach students about different bird species, how they make their homes, and how to follow them.
Zuiker says people like to feed and watch wild birds for many reasons.
"I think one of the most important reasons is that it's a very, very peaceful emotional experience. You put the food out there, you spend time on your deck in the nice weather, in winter you're indoors watching birds. And you never know what's going to show up. Most of the yards around can easily get 30 different species of the birds in their backyards."
Paul Starzynski started feeding birds as a hobby after he retired three years ago.
"If you sit quietly, they come real close and you don't bother them; you can watch them," he said. "You can even see the little seed in their beak before they swallow it. It's kind of fun. Besides, I like them flying over my head. I would be alone out there if I didn't have the birds."
Starzynski also says that some birders are very serious about their hobby. They are able to identify many different species, even ones that look similar.
Even without knowing every bird species or where they come from, Starzynski loves bird watching. He's just one of millions of Americans who enjoy the colorful beauty and sounds that birds bring to their homes.