Friday, February 7, 2014

Animal Husbandry

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Andover, MA, June 2012

Animal Husbandry. What is it? It is an old fashioned term for those who care for animals. Webster’s dictionary defines it this way:

n. the scientific study or practice of breeding and tending domestic animals, especially farm animals.

We may think that those who “tend domestic animals” nowadays are few and far between, and, that it has nothing to do with us or with birding, but I propose it has everything to do with those of us who are involved in the feeding and watching of birds. I don’t know about you, but every morning when I get up, after I have dressed and before I do anything else, I take care of my birds. I go outside and fill their feeders. 

Anna's Hummingbird in my Tucson Backyard, September 2012

If necessary, I clean them, and then fill them. I clean and refill the bird bath. When appropriate, I empty, clean and refill the hummingbird feeders. Often while I am doing this, I think of my grandfather who was a farmer. He cared for cattle and sheep. He even had a donkey at one time that could be heard braying all across the small Connecticut town where I grew up. I remember him feeding his animals, tossing them hay and milking his cows. He was a good “husbandman.” 

                Husbandman: n. a farmer.

American Goldfinch, Andover, MA, April 2012

I take such pleasure in feeding my birds. It makes me smile to see them flitter around the feeders, sometimes fighting for position or for food. I watch their little birdy squabbles and listen to their bird song and bird chatter. I love to see them drinking from the birdbath or even bathing.

Mourning Doves bathing in my Tucson backyard
It makes me feel good to know that I have provided for them and it gives me joy to see them this close. I have been feeding birds since I was 16 years old. Everywhere we have moved I have found new places to hang my feeders up and discovered new kinds of feeders. I learned that American Goldfinches on the east coast loved a mixed finch seed blend and that I need to feed the seed in a closed tube feeder, while here in Arizona I can use a wire mesh feeder and feed nyjar or thistle seed to the Lesser Goldfinches. The Lesser Goldfinches seemed to disdain the finch seed blend the American Goldfinches love while the American Goldfinches prefer that blend but turn their noses up at pure nyjar seed. 

Lesser Goldfinches, Tucson, October 2012
Open feeders do not work up north since the seed gets wet and rots while in the desert I can use that type of feeder because it is so dry and the Lesser Gold Finches cling to the wire mesh in groups of golden bliss!

Bird Feeders in Colchester, CT, October 2012
Feeding the birds can be so much fun. It is a way to involve children in nature and a wonderful pastime for those who are house bound for whatever reason. Birds brighten up a gray winter’s day and the sounds of bird song in the yard always makes me feel like the world is alive and therefore, so am I.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Andover, MA, June 2012

When I looked into the subject of Animal Husbandry even further I discovered yet another way in which Bird Feeding and Bird Watchers have something in common with “husbandry” for yet another definition is this:

                Husbandry: n. careful or thrifty management, frugality, thrift, or conservation.

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area near Sonoita, AZ, March 2013
I think most birders would admit that they are concerned with conservation as well. I know I am, for it is only the careful conservation of our natural resources that will allow us to maintain the habitat needed to keep birds around for us to enjoy. 

Cattle Egrets and Long-billed Curlews in Agricultural Fields near the Salton Sea, CA, November 2012

I would not want to live in a world void of birds and bird song. It would be a dull place indeed! So, though it is an old-fashioned term, and some might say a bit sexist, I do not take it that way. Though I am a woman, I am happy to husband my birds, but I am thankful that they are wild and not domestic! It is their very wildness that makes me want to see them. I want to be connected to everything wild. 

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island, MA, January 2012


  1. It's one of my favorite things to do. There is enjoyment watching birds come and visit. My feral cat that comes around, I discovered just recently, isn't into the birds so much as the peanuts that fall onto the ground. He's turned vegetarian!

    1. That's why he was jumping and scratching the feeder....for the nuts!

    2. Chris, I know how much you enjoy feeding the birds!

  2. I'd never thought of feeding bird as nimal husbandry but I guess you're right Kathie. Good thoughts, thank you.

    1. Phil Slade, I am glad you agree! It's kind of fun once you get it!

  3. Now that I am getting a taste of a US winter I can see why you do feed the birds here, something that is actively discouraged at home in Australia as it isn't necessary - water is a much more important item to provide!

    1. happy wanderer, water is important here as well, whether one lives in the frozen north or the dry south! and water attracts even more birds than seed do!

  4. I so enjoyed reading this wonderful post, Kathie! Like you, I derive such pleasure out of feeding and tending to the birds in our area. Observing them certainly brightens my day. Love the ballerina hummingbird feeder holder in the first photo!

    1. Julie, it truly is so much fun! and sadly that ballerina has broken her feet and arms off, but I keep hoping to have her mended and so have brought her back to Maine in bits and pieces!

  5. Thanks everyone for commenting. I am sorry I am so late to the game, but was busy driving across the country when this posted!

  6. Feeding the birds in the backyard is fun! I keep the binoculars & my bird book close by to identify the visitors. :)