Mark’s wife Mary, during a recent snowstorm, “The cardinals illuminate the yard!”

Indeed. Both of us have experienced more bird activity around our homes than ever. Or, maybe we are more focused on the view out the window than most other years. This is, after all, an extraordinary time, as no one needs to tell you. 

Jody Allair is a passionate birder. No wait, that is an understatement, he is much more than passionate about birds. 
If he were a bird balloon he would burst.
If he were a dog at a dog convention, he would be the bird dog.…. Well, you get the point.  
Jody co-wrote a story with Pete Davidson for Birdwatch Canada Magazine recently in which they share the amazing story of the Bar-tailed Godwit. Never heard of it, right?
Well, here is the thing. The Bar-tailed Godwit is one determined bird. When it is time to fly home to New Zealand from their summer vacation place in the Canadian Arctic, they fly all the way without stopping.  
Bar-tailed Godwit
Photo credit: North & South Photography
Now that we can put micro-chip GPS on the wings of a bird, we have scientific proof of this. Fact is, one male Godwit reportedly arrived at Pukorakoro, Miranda, New Zealand in late October. It covered an estimated 12,200 km over 11 days without stopping.  
“This incredible journey broke the previous world record for non-stop avian flight (set by another Bar-tailed Godwit in 2007), making front pages of global mainstream media.” Jody and Pete report. 

Here is the rest of their story from BirdWatch Canada magazine.
Think about this for one moment: 1,109 km in one day, for 11 days in a row.   We have both driven that far, once, or twice. And each time it seemed like a pretty dumb thing to do, driver fatigue and all.

But nature has a way of managing these things. Whatever motivates the Godwit to fly this far to get home, we are in awe of this species for its tenacity, determination and ability to just stick to the job until it is done.  

We imagine that, when it first takes off from the shores of the Arctic Ocean on this annual journey south, it must only have one thing on its mind: its destination.
Bar-tailed Godwits
Photo credit: North & South Photography
Back to our new focus on birds during lockdown. Mark counted 12 different species of birds on his feeders this morning. At one time. He has 14 bird feeders and budgets enough cash for bird food that he and Mary could easily afford to feed another child with the money. 

Collectively, perhaps, their wild birds are their 5th child. 

During COVID lockdown, we are inspired by the colour, activity, and songs of wild birds. And the story of one species that has their eye on the long-term goal. There is the lesson for us, when there is a lot of news about what to do and not to do during this pandemic: focus on the long-term goal. 
We are grateful to Jody for his monthly contributions to this newsletter. And his reminder that Project FeederWatch is underway right now. 

Project FeederWatch is a survey of birds that visit backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. You don’t even need a feeder! All you need is an area with plantings, habitat, water or food that attracts birds.
The schedule is completely flexible. Count your birds for as long as you like on days of your choosing, then enter your counts online.
With FeederWatch, your observations become part of something bigger than your backyard.
Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee at feeder
photo credit: Gord Belyea
Birds Canada will send you everything else you need to get started identifying birds. New participants receive a research kit with instructions for participating, as well as a bird identification poster, a calendar, and more.

The 34th Project FeederWatch season is on now. Anyone can join Project FeederWatch in Canada by making a donation of any amount to Birds Canada. Visit BirdsCanada/FeederWatch to join.

We hope you will join us and thousands of other Canadians who report bird sightings between now and April. The information that Birds Canada gathers from this annual exercise is priceless.

As is the experience of birding.

Thank you Jody. And Pete.

Have a wonderful month of February: Valentines = flowers, remember. And when it is done, we are one month closer to spring. Yippee.
Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty and Beans
  • Buy new dahlia bulbs. They will arrive at your local garden retailer any day soon and you should get them while the selection is at its best. Plant in one-gallon sized containers in March.

  • Start petunia seeds in February. Most others wait until March or April.

  • Feed the birds. Use a quality seed mix so that it does not get wasted and you attract quality birds. We recommend Mark's Choice Bird Feast, exclusive to Home Hardware. 

  • Buy seeds. Whether you choose to shop the seed catalogues or peruse the seed racks at your local garden centre, be sure to do it soon. First, you are only going to get busier as the gardening season approaches.  Secondly, the selection is at its best.
Did you miss us? After one month of dealing with technical challenges no gardener should have to face, we are finally able to put our January podcasts online.

Join us as we discuss the year behind us and the year ahead in gardening.

Tune in - on Apple, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts.
We write a weekly column for the New In Homes & Condos section of the Saturday Toronto Star.
In case you missed it, these are the exciting gardening/environment columns we wrote in January.
Pileated Woodpecker
By: Jody Allair
Few birds make everyone stop in their tracks. The Pileated Woodpecker is one of them. The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest, and arguably loudest, of Canada’s woodpecker species. It is found year-round in forested areas from the Maritimes west to Vancouver Island. Identifying Pileated Woodpeckers is relatively straightforward – they are crow-sized, and mostly black, with a red cap, white stripes on their neck, and a white patch on their underwings, which is quite visible during flight. With reasonable views you can separate males from females. Male Pileated Woodpeckers have a red moustache and females have a black moustache.

Pileated Woodpeckers require large, intact, mature forests. They will build a large oblong nest cavity into either a mature deciduous or coniferous tree, and are generally quite territorial, with pairs sticking together year-round within a large forest block. They feed on a variety of invertebrates, but they especially like carpenter ants.

For those fortunate folks who live adjacent to a large forest, you may be lucky enough to glimpse a Pileated Woodpecker at your feeders – especially if you have good quantities of suet on offer. Last April, I was treated to a rare visit from a female Pileated Woodpecker at my feeders. The bird stuck around only for a few minutes. I managed to snap a couple of (slightly blurry) photos. I’ve included my favourite one here.
Pileated Woodpecker
Photo credit: Jody Allair
The Pileated Woodpecker was recently named the American Birding Association’s (ABA) 2021 Bird of the Year: Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus - American Birding Association (aba.org). The ABA will be adding featured content about this wonderful species throughout the year on their website and in their magazine.
Good Birding!

Jody Allair
Director, Citizen Science and Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair
Feature Recipe
Move over Valentine’s Day, Celebrate Chinese New Year with Homemade Dumplings. 

Dumplings formed to look like ingots of gold, and that resemble little purses, symbolically filled with good luck.