So here it is, the week before Christmas, and you've still got gifts to buy. Maybe you've simply procrastinated, or maybe you've hesitated because you're anxious about spending too much during these uncertain economic times.(Or maybe events have conspired to delay your holiday shopping, as has happened to me. The sudden illness and death of my brother Mark and travel to Texas for his funeral fully occupied our attention from Nov. 2 until Dec. 10, when we got back home, exhausted.)
If your loved ones enjoy looking at birds, here are some ideas for inexpensive but enduring gifts. And if your budget is REALLY limited, keep reading because I have ideas about that, too!
For people who love watching birds at their feeders, consider Project Feeder-Watch, operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. For $15 the new member gets a research kit, FeederWatch calendar, bird ID poster, handbook and a year's subscription to BirdScope, the Cornell Lab newsletter. Participants observe the birds in their yard and report what they're seeing to FeederWatch, either on paper forms or via the Internet. It's a fun and educational winter activity for all ages. To get a gift subscription, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/or call (877) 741-3077.
Another satisfying family activity is developing the backyard to attract wildlife. National Wildlife Federation helps by providing information and recognizes success with the Certified Wildlife Habitat program. If people on your list are already planting for wildlife, buy them a certification. For $15, they'll get a personalized certificate, a listing on the national registry of certified habitats, a free NWF membership and one-year subscriptions to National Wildlife magazine and the quarterly newsletter Habitats. If your loved ones would like to attract wildlife but haven't yet started, you can print out attractive instruction sheets from the NWF Web site and make up a gift packet, adding $15 to buy the certification when the project is under way. For an additional $25 you can pay for a yard sign, to be bought after their yard is certified. Get started at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife or call (800) 822-9919 and choose option 3.
National Wildlife Federation also offers three magazines for children, available at www.nwf.org/magazines or by calling (888) 213-5637:
o Toddlers (ages 1-4), Wild Animal Baby magazine, 10 issues plus a wild animal baby dish set, $19.95
o Preschoolers (ages 3-7), Your Big Backyard magazine, 12 issues plus Big Backyard Binoculars, $19.95
o Schoolchildren (7 and older), Ranger Rick magazine, 12 issues plus Ranger Rick Binoculars for $19.95.
There are untold numbers of books and magazines about birds, some far better than others. Here are some publications I recommend for various age and interest levels: Very serious birders
For adults, the American Birding Association publishes Birding magazine six times per year, along with the newsletter Winging It, at $45. ABA also publishes North American Birds journal four times per year at $32.
For teenagers, ABA offers a special newsletter, A Bird's Eye View, six issues for $10. To give a gift subscription to any ABA publication, visit www.americanbirding.org and click on "membership," then on "join or renew," or call (800) 850-2473.
Birdwatcher's Digest, a small-format magazine with excellent writing; half-price first-time subscriptions (available until Jan. 15), $10 for one year (six issues); www.bird-watchersdigest.com or call (800) 879-2473.
Birder's World, glossy full-size magazine, six issues per year, holiday gift offer (through Dec. 31), $18.95 for a year; www.birdersworld.com or call (800) 533-6644 (Kalmbach Publishing).
WildBird, glossy full-size magazine, six issues per year, first-time subscription $12.99; www.wildbirdmagazine.com/wb or call (800) 542-1600. Birding (and gardening) lite
Birds & Blooms magazine is too cutesy and lightweight for my taste but it's very popular with lots of people. Six issues per year, first-time subscriptions $14.98; www.bird-sandblooms.com or call (800) 344-6913 (Reiman Publications, whose stable of magazines also includes Reader's Digest).
Gifts of your own effort.
If your heart feels generous but your bank account is bare, consider giving your own time and energy.
Does your elderly parent or neighbor need bird feeders filled? Wood carried in? Garbage taken out? Draw up a colorful promise card to put under the tree, and then do the job all year. And a weekly visit, especially during frigid weather when old folks fear falling on ice, can be a treasured diversion for someone isolated by failing health.
Would the children on your list enjoy getting out in the woods and learning about wildlife? An inexpensive guide to birds or mammals, accompanied by a "gift certificate" promising a series of woodland walks, might produce more happy memories than $1,000 worth of plastic toys.
Frances Hamilton has written about birds in Chester County since 1968. Contact her at email@example.com.