Our friend Carrol Henderson has written a number of fascinating articles for us through the years. He’s the author of our current cover story about birding in Cuba, for example, and in December 1999, he published “Century of Bird Feeding,” a chronicle of the rise of backyard feeding throughout the 1900s.
“We live in a society surrounded by wild bird food,” he wrote then. “You see it in supermarkets, hardware stores, gas stations, garden centers, and wild bird specialty stores.” Feeding birds was big business and a popular pastime, but he noted that it hadn’t always been that way.
The article, in part, spurred Henderson, Paul Baicich, co-editor of the Birding Community E-Bulletin, and Margaret Barker, a former coordinator of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, to write this book. Thoroughly researched and fun to read, it tells the complete story of bird feeding from the late 1800s to the present day and is full of fascinating details about early advocates and the development of seeds and the various styles of feeders.
Perhaps you’ve wondered, as we have, how people figured out that black-oil sunflower seeds and suet would attract birds, or that safflower would be popular with cardinals. This book has the answers to those questions and many more. For example, in the 1890s and early 1900s, authors Mabel Osgood Wright and Clifton F. Hodge were among the first to suggest providing specific foods, rather than tossing out leftover foods and grains. Their early leadership, the widespread support for bird feeding, the tinkering of feeder inventors, and the work of so many others who have followed have made it possible for millions of Americans to feed birds today.
Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce and Conservation, by Paul J. Baicich, Margaret A. Barker, and Carrol L. Henderson, Texas A&M University Press, paperback, 320 pages, $27.95.
Read more reviews from our June 2015 issue
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