Find gifts for birders

Charley Harper puzzle

Environment for the Americas, the folks who organize International Migratory Bird Day, are offering this Charlie Harper puzzle titled, “Mystery of the Missing Migrants.”

Published Dec. 6, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Get creative with gifts for birders.”

2014 Update: The websites listed at the end of this column have been updated. There are now newer editions of the field guides mentioned. Bird-friendly coffee and chocolate are more widely available now at natural food stores.

By Barb Gorges

A good gift is useful, educational or edible, if not homemade. If someone on your gift list truly cares about wild birds, they don’t want energy and resources harvested from sensitive bird habitats wasted on making junk.

Here’s my list, sorted somewhat by a recipient’s degree of interest in birds.

First, for anyone, armchair bird watcher to ornithologist, Houghton Mifflin has three new illustrated books.

“Letters from Eden, A Year at Home, in the Woods” by Julie Zickefoose ($26) includes her watercolor sketches. A frequent contributor to Bird Watcher’s Digest, her bird and nature observations are often made in the company of her young children on their 80-acre farm in Ohio or from the 40-foot tower atop her house.

Zickefoose’s tower may have been her husband’s idea. He is Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and editor of “All Things Reconsidered, My Birding Adventures,” Roger Tory Peterson ($30).

Peterson was the originator of the modern field guide. From 1984 until his death in 1996, he wrote a regular column for the Digest. Peterson had the gift of writing about birds, bird places and bird people so anyone could enjoy his choice of topics. Anyone can enjoy this photo-illustrated book.

The third book, “The Songs of Wild Birds.” ($20) is a treat for eyes and ears. Author Lang Elliott chose his favorite stories about 50 bird species from his years of recording their songs. Each short essay faces a full page photo portrait of the bird. The accompanying CD has their songs and more commentary. My favorite is the puffin recording.

The field guide is the essential tool for someone moving up from armchair status. National Geographic’s fifth edition of its Field Guide to the Birds of North America ($24) came out this fall.

New are the thumb tabs for major bird groups, like old dictionaries have for each letter. It has more birds and more pages plus the bird names and range maps are updated.

Binoculars are the second most essential tool. If you are shopping for someone who hasn’t any or has a pair more than 20 years old, you can’t go wrong with 7 x 35 or 8 x 42 in one of the under $100 brands at sporting goods stores. You can also find an x-back-style harness ($20) there, an improvement over the regular strap.

Past the introductory level, a gift certificate would be better because fitting binoculars is as individual as each person’s eyes.

Spotting scopes don’t need fitting. However, if you find a good, low-end model, don’t settle for a low-end tripod because it won’t last in the field.

For extensive information on optics, see the Bird Watcher’s Digest Web site.

Bird feeders, bird seed, bird houses and bird baths are great gifts if the recipient or you are able to clean and maintain them. To match them with the local birds at the recipient’s house, call the local Audubon chapter or check the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch and Birdhouse Network sites.

You can make a gift of a Lab membership ($35), which includes several publications, and of course, there’s Audubon and its magazine ($20 introductory offer). Bird Watcher’s Digest ($20 per year), mentioned above, makes learning about birds fun, as does Birder’s World magazine ($25 per year).

For someone who wants to discuss identifying obscure sparrows and other topics of interest to listers, they might be ready for membership in the American Birding Association ($40). The ABA also has a great catalog available to everyone online. It’s filled with optics, gear and every bird book and field guide available in English for the most obscure places in the world.

The ABA tempts members with mailings for trips to exotic birding hotspots, as well as its annual meetings held in different parts of the country. Also check Bird Watcher’s Digest for nationwide bird festival listings.

One subscription valuable to an academic type who doesn’t already have access, is the Birds of North America Online ($40). Every species has as many as 50 pages of information and hundreds of references to studies.

For the computer literate, Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America, version 3.5 ($75), includes photos, songs, videos, life histories, quizzes and search functions.

After the useful and educational, there’s the edible. Look for organically grown products because they don’t poison bird habitat. The ABA sells bird friendly, shade grown coffee and organic chocolate through its Web site.

Coffee and other items are available also at the International Migratory Bird Day web site, and support migratory bird awareness and education.

If the person on your list is truly committed to the welfare of wild birds and wildlife in general, skip the trinkets such as the plush bird toys that sing and don’t add to their collection of birdy t-shirts.

Look for products that are good for the environment. These are items that are energy efficient, solar-powered, rechargeable, refillable, fixable, recyclable, made from recycled or organic materials, or are locally grown or manufactured.

Or make a donation in their name to an organization like Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy or The Nature Conservancy which work to protect bird habitat.

Presents along these lines would be great gifts for your friend or family member, and for birds and other wildlife, any time of year.

American Bird Conservancy: membership, research, advocacy, publications, gear,

American Birding Association: membership, publications, books, optics, gear, travel

Birder’s World: magazine,

Bird Watcher’s Digest: magazine, bird info, bird festival listings and gear for sale,

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: membership, bird info, Citizen Science projects,

International Migratory Bird Day (Environment for the Americas): education, online store,

National Audubon Society: membership, magazine, research, advocacy, directory of chapters

North American Birds Online: Internet data base,

Thayer Birding: software,

The Nature Conservancy: membership, publications, gear,

Gifts for birdwatchers and birds

Bird-friendly coffee

Try some bird-friendly coffee from the folks who bring you the International Migratory Bird Day catalog, Environment for the Americas.

Published Dec. 12, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Make this Christmas a holiday for the birds.”

2014 Update: All the phone numbers originally listed in this column have been converted to website addresses for your convenience. The prices, however, have not been updated, and there are many new bird books.

By Barb Gorges

Satisfying the wild bird lover on your Christmas gift list can be as easy as buying a sweatshirt decorated with chickadees, a clock with bird song chimes or chirping plush toys, not to mention fine bird art in all kinds of media.

However, none of these gifts do much for the birds themselves unless part of the profits benefits bird conservation.

Consider turning the wild bird lover into a knowledgeable bird watcher who can contribute to citizen science bird counting efforts such as the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count or Project Feederwatch.

You could start by picking up the basic field guide, “Birds of North America” by Kenn Kaufman, for about $15 at a local bookstore and a pair of 7 x 35 Bushnell binoculars at Kmart for about $25.

If your bird watcher is more advanced, you’ll have to do some sleuthing. Do they already have a copy of “The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior” or “A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies” by James Bond?

Don’t try to pick out binoculars for the advanced birder. Pricey models have too many variables that must fit the individual user’s eyes.

Does your bird watcher subscribe to Bird Watcher’s Digest,, or Birder’s World [now called BirdWatching magazine],

Both magazines are filled with advertising for all kinds of bird identification and observation gizmos, even special clothing such as field vests with pockets designed to fit field guides.



Organically grown chocolate is good for bird habitats.

However, all the latest bird watching accoutrements advertised in those magazines are merely trappings of a personal hobby and won’t help the birds if the bird watcher doesn’t share their observations and knowledge.

Feeding wild birds can be a hobby that benefits some kinds of birds directly. The gift ideas range from a simple shelf and a bag of black oil sunflower seed to elaborate spring-loaded, squirrel-proof dispensers and custom seed blends.

Don’t forget water. A large plastic dog dish filled less than 2 inches deep is easy to bring in and thaw under the kitchen tap if you aren’t ready to finance a heated bird bath.

There are other gifts that delight the bird lover/watcher and benefit birds. Three major bird conservation organizations provide informative and colorful magazines as part of membership: National Audubon Society (find your local chapter,, Cornell Lab of Ornithology,, and American Birding Association,

Perhaps the person on your gift list is already a member and is ready for a more altruistic gift. You can make a donation in their name to that organization or pick one of the many others such as the American Bird Conservancy

Maybe you are the kind person who remembers your pets at Christmas and would like to do something for the birds too. Here are suggestions.

–Avoid planting trees in grassland bird habitat. Plant more fruiting trees in town.

–Keep your cat indoors or on a leash or in a kennel at all times.

–Lobby for bird-friendly legislation and policies. It isn’t as much fun as counting birds for scientific study, but protecting habitat is the most efficient way to help wild birds.

–Conserve resources, “reduce, recycle, reuse.” Owning too much stuff wastes energy and resources which require mining, drilling, timbering, spraying – all activities usually detrimental to birds. Besides, the simple life will give you more time to enjoy bird watching.

Actually, these suggestions would all make good New Year’s resolutions.

When your shopping is done and you can finally put your feet up, you’ll be happy to know there are things you can consume, of which every ounce helps birds.

Shade-grown coffee and organic chocolate are grown in the shade of forest trees, the time-honored family farmer’s method, in Central and South America, where our neotropical birds spend the winter. The mega-farms use new varieties that require sun, which requires cutting the forests and spraying the crops, leaving no place for birds.

Jane Dorn was telling me last week that she read that the particular bee that pollinates coffee plants prefers shade, so shade-grown plants are also much more productive than those receiving chemical fertilizers.

Locally, organic coffee is offered by Coffee Express, Starbucks and sometimes City News.

If you do an Internet search, the key phrases are “organic chocolate,” which will give you mouth-watering sites like Dagoba Organic Chocolate, and “shade-grown coffee,” where I found gourmet blends offered by Grounds for Change,

Finally, one of the best gifts you can give someone is your time. Arrange to take your friend or family on a little bird watching field trip, either your own itinerary or with a group. The memories of real birds will be more valuable than any flock printed on a sweatshirt.

Chocolates for birds


Organic chocolate is good for the birds.

Published Feb. 8, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Planning to buy your sweetie chocolates for Valentine’s Day? Here’s a way to help the environment when you do.”

2014 Update: There are myriad places to find organic chocolate today. Check Natural Grocers in Cheyenne, Wyo. Brands include Ah!laska, Cloud Nine, Green and Black’s, Newman’s Own, Rapunzel Pure Organics, Sunspire.

By Barb Gorges

We are at the zenith of the chocolate season, in the middle of the chocolate holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Chocolate travels better in the cold half of the year.

As a chocoholic known to snack from a bag of chocolate chips when no one is looking–but otherwise concerned with healthy food–I was surprised to learn a few years ago that there is such a thing as organic chocolate.

I choose organic foods often; for my health, for the health of the land and its lifeforms as well as the health of agricultural workers.
Typically “organic” means grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Growing organic chocolate, or rather cocoa trees, is more complicated.

Cocoa has been grown in Central and South America for about 3,000 years, according to the history of chocolate provided by Ghiradelli’s Web site. The Spanish explorers picked it up and began its distribution to the rest of the world. Cocoa grows best within 20 degrees of the equator, wherever it’s hot and rainy.

Traditionally, farmers clear rainforest underbrush and plant cocoa trees in the shade of the native tree canopy. Native birds make their homes there. In fact, scientists have discovered the pink-legged graveteiro prefers traditional cocoa plantations to unaltered rainforest.

Only in the last 50 years or so has the age of chemical-dependent agriculture taken over cocoa production.

The rainforest is now completely cleared away, and new varieties of sun-tolerant cocoa are planted. Unlike their shade-grown counterparts, the new plantations need constant infusions of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And the monoculture does not attract many birds.

Farming this way means just what it does in the United States: a greater chance of toxic chemicals invading drinking water and the life cycles of native plants and animals.

I won’t even begin to pretend to know enough to explain the social justice issues of poor farmers caught in the spiraling costs of chemicals or farmers using banned organochlorines illegally acquired.

Before you completely lose your taste for chocolate, let me tell you the good news.

People in the bird conservation community have been touting shade-grown coffee the last few years and recognition of shade-grown chocolate is growing.

Shade-grown doesn’t necessarily mean grown completely without chemicals, so I look for the organic designation.

The purveyors of fine organic chocolate include Cloud Nine, Green & Black’s (a United Kingdom company), Newman’s Own Organics (run by Paul’s daughter Nell) and Rapunzel, and Sunspire.

I had the pleasure of taste-testing part of a box (my family members are in denial about their own chocoholism) of Newman’s Own Organics 1.2 ounce Milk Chocolate Bars. The taste difference alone was enough to make me consider giving up my nonorganic chocolate chips.

Isn’t it more expensive to buy organic? Yes, it is. But a quick survey of large chocolate bars at a local grocery store showed a range in price per ounce of 28 cents for Hershey’s to 68 cents for Lindt, the genuine Swiss article, compared to Newman’s at 47 cents and Rapunzel’s at 60 cents, as listed in my local co-op’s price guide.

So choosing organic chocolate becomes a matter of taste and/or ethics.

Newman’s Own Organics developed its own sources for organic cocoa with help from the Organic Commodity Project based in Cambridge, Mass.
The company buys directly from farm cooperatives in Costa Rica and Panama. They offer the farmers financial incentives to comply with organic standards.

Almost all the other chocolate ingredients are organic also, although organic soy lecithin seems to be difficult for everyone except Rapunzel’s to find. Newman’s lists milk for their chocolate as coming from a Wisconsin organic milk cooperative, probably the same one I get my organic cheese from.

Perhaps you prefer your chocolate in other forms. Ah!laska makes organic hot chocolate mix, cocoa powder for baking and chocolate syrup. Sunspire makes chocolate chips and chocolate covered nuts and fruit.

The Organic Commodities Project can line you up with bulk quantities if you are a chocolate-based business.

I know I don’t do myself any favors giving in to the instant gratification of cheap chocolate every time I’m alone in the kitchen. The idea that I have chips around for baking cookies is just a cover for my addiction.

Maybe it’s time to make chocolate eating a communal celebration of the commitment to improve the lives of birds, farmers and other life in the rain forest.