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On the Wing: Special Gifts for the Birders on Your List

Thu, 12/16/2021 - 12:41
Marders in Bridgehampton carries custom-made birdhouses that would made perfect gifts for those who love birds.
Durell Godfrey

Let’s start this bird lover’s gift buying guide by talking about death, and paracord.

According to the National Audubon society, “hundreds of millions” of birds die each year because they collide with windows.

Skyscrapers are problematic, yes, but so is your house on the South Fork. Just two weeks ago, a hermit thrush, which I was so pleased to note at my birdbath in the morning, bashed into a tiny side window of my house and died in my hand minutes later. Audubon estimates anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of birds that hit a window die, and just because they fly away doesn’t mean they live.

Window decals are one way to help prevent these deaths. Let your kid stick them all over the windows in their room. “They’re a great stocking stuffer,” said Bruce Horwith, owner of Wild Bird Crossing in Bridgehampton, where they are sold. “They work pretty well to prevent birds colliding into your windows.”

If decals aren’t your style, Google “zen wind curtains.” These are essentially nylon strings, the paracord mentioned above, which hang down from the outside of a window. They sway gently in the breeze and do not block light. Most important, they seem to be the best solution to preventing window strikes.

You can purchase the paracord and cable clamps at Tru-Value Hardware in Sag Harbor. Make it into a family project. Paracord: It’s what every bird lover wants this holiday season.

After you’ve prevented them from harming themselves, “The best thing you can do to support birds,” said Matt Stedman, the landscape manager at Fort Pond Native Plants in Montauk, “is to restore habitat.” 

Mr. Stedman highlighted four of the best plants to purchase. Native chokeberry and native blueberry both provide birds with a food source in late summer just before they begin their fall migration. For wintering birds, there’s winterberry, which show bright red berries through the winter. Last, eastern red cedar is a native tree that produces berries and provides nesting habitat. Plant one, and you might attract the only warbler you’re likely to see in the winter: the yellow-rumped warbler.

Of course, you won’t be planting in the depths of December, but you can call Fort Pond Native Plants at 631-668-6452 and buy a gift card over the phone that can be mailed out. Then, the recipient will have something to look forward to in the spring planting season.

A unique way to support bird habitat with a simple stocking stuffer is to buy a “duck stamp” from the post office, meant to be displayed in the windshield of a vehicle: 98 percent of the $25 purchase price goes directly to support the purchase of wetlands for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The attractive stamps feature a different duck each year — this year it’s the lesser scaup — and offer free admission to National Wildlife Refuge properties through June 30. This means you can get into the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge for free by just displaying the stamp on your windshield.

Birdbaths support birds, can be beautiful, help set off an area of your backyard, and don’t add to in-home clutter. Marders in Bridgehampton has a wide array. You can spend anywhere from $250 to $1,000. That’s a nice chunk of change, but it should last forever. It’s the sort of gift that won’t be forgotten. Remember, quality, not quantity.

Oh, and if you get that birdbath at Marders, stop at the Bridgehampton Commons next door for a birdbath de-icer at Wild Bird Crossing.

If you choose to purchase a birdhouse as a gift, make sure that it is suitable for the recipient’s backyard. Purple martin houses look cool, but unless the yard borders a large field or open water, you won’t attract martins. Install houses by the early spring. Owls have already begun nesting; if you buy a screech owl box, hang it immediately. Birdhouses can be found at many garden centers, and Marders has beautiful custom-made houses.

Sparking children’s interest in birds can help them become environmentally conscious for their whole lives. If you have children, have a bird field guide in the house. I would recommend the Sibley guide as opposed to guides that show actual photographs. The Sibley guide features paintings of birds and highlights their field marks, those little details that are used to separate one species from another.

You can find the Sibley guide at many stores, including BookHampton in East Hampton and Canio’s in Sag Harbor.

Grandparents can give their grandchildren a magazine subscription. Kids love getting mail. I would recommend “Ranger Rick,” which is both educational and informative.

The South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton has a number of bird-friendly gifts for children, or buy a family membership for a friend. This will allow them to join all the great bird programming at SoFo, such as moonlit owl walks and bird migration walks, for free.

You can also go completely off the beaten path and make a donation in someone’s name to the New York State Ornithological Association, which lists protecting birds and their habitats as one of its main objectives. Find it at

For an older child, Wingspan is a wonderful bird-theme board game with a bit of a learning curve. You can find it at Stevenson’s Toys in East Hampton and at Wild Bird Crossing. “It’s getting incredible reviews,” said Mr. Horwith. I have played this game with my daughters hundreds of times. There are tutorials on YouTube. It’s a bit of a commitment, but worthwhile, because you learn about birds while spending time with your family.

Finally, there are books. Canio’s in Sag Harbor has a wide range of books about birds and birding. It also carries bird-theme calendars and notecards. It might seem anachronistic, using a pen to write thoughts on paper, but trust me, it’s satisfying.

The best thing about supporting local bookstores is that you get personalized recommendations. Maryann Calendrille, owner of Canio’s Books, recommends celebrating Emily Dickinson’s 191st birthday with perhaps her favorite bird book, “A Splicing of Birds.” “It’s a beautifully designed hardcover with richly colored illustrations,” said Ms. Calendrille.

Bird Notes

Thanks again to the many people who have written in this week. One funny story was in an email from Kim Lombardini, a resident of Pine Neck in Sag Harbor.

She lives near the bay and lets her dogs out in her yard. In the spring, she noticed the tail of a fish in the grass and quickly threw it away before the dogs found it. A couple of days went by, and she noticed something else: fish guts.

“After some research (Google: Fish parts in yard),” she wrote, “I determined that I had an osprey around. One that liked to dine above my yard.”

Who needs a birdfeeder when you have a bay?

I’m interested in your bird sightings, common and uncommon. Strange stories, normal stories. If they relate to birds, their behavior, or awareness in general, please drop me a line at [email protected].

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