Birds and Blooms Blog

Get the latest birding and gardening tips from our expert bloggers.

Build and Learn with LEGO Birds!

Jill Staake

Is there anyone who doesn’t love to build with LEGOs? I will admit that even though no kids live in my house, there are still quite a few LEGOs around to play with. Not long ago, I purchased a new set of LEGOs that were so cool I knew I had to share them with other birders out there. If you’re looking for a way to involve kids in birding, or just enjoy a little playtime yourself, you’re going to want to check out the new LEGO Birds set.

Birds Lego Set

The three birds featured in the set are the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), found in North America; the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), found from Europe south to North Africa and east to Siberia; and the Green Violetear Hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus), found from Mexico down through northern South America. The birds are approximately life-sized, and come with their own stands and labels showing their scientific names.

Birds Lego Set

These birds also each come with their own booklet, both to guide you through assembly and to teach you more about the species as you build. This would be a really fun project to do over spring break with the kids or grandkids. Build the LEGO birds and spend some time researching them on the internet. Then, head outside with binoculars and a camera to take your own Blue Jay photos (tip: they love peanuts!).

Birds Lego Set

The LEGO Birds set is part of the IDEAS program, and I’m not sure how long it might be available, so if you’re interested, I recommend ordering it soon. I guarantee it’s fun for kids of all ages!

Backyard Project: Add Color to the Outdoors With Milk Paint

Do you enjoy a garden filled with colorful plants?  Most of us do – but unfortunately, there are often times of the year when plants are out of flower, which can leave our backyard garden somewhat colorless.  But, plants are just one way to add color to your garden.

Often, when we feel the need for more color inside our homes, we paint our walls.  So, why not apply that concept to our outdoor spaces?

Let’s step outside and take a new look at the wooden structures in the garden and imagine what they would look like with a colorful coat of eco-friendly, milk paint.

painted raised bed for color

Last year, I visited the University of Tennessee kitchen gardens and was impressed by their colorful raised beds, compost bin and vertical wall.  Not only were the flowers and vegetables attractive, so were the surrounding garden structures with their purple color.  That got me to thinking about how this garden would look beautiful even when empty of plants.

The wooden structures in this kitchen garden were painted using ‘milk paint’.  While you may not have heard of ‘milk paint’ before, it has been around for thousands of years and was used for creating cave paintings and objects painted with it were found in King Tut’s tomb.

Well, the saying that “everything old becomes new again”, is certainly true in this case.  Milk paint is becoming a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor use.  The fact that it is non-toxic and made from natural ingredients (milk protein, lime and natural pigments), makes it the perfect choice for outdoor structures – especially those that surround edible crops.

painted compost bin

Milk paint adds color while retaining a matte, rustic look.  The grain from the wood clearly shows through giving it a semi-opaque quality, which goes along with a garden theme.  The color from milk paint does not fade and resists peeling and chipping, which are common complaints when other paints are used.  When used outdoors, milk paint is often finished with a layer of hemp oil to help protect it from the elements.

Let’s take a look at the wooden structures where you can use milk paint in your own garden.

If you have raised beds, trellises or a wooden border surrounding a perennial bed – how about giving them a nice coat of milk paint?  Or maybe the door to your shed could be an opportunity to add a bright spot of color to your garden?  And don’t forget about your compost bin- if it’s made out of wood, why not transform it into something that actually adds beauty to your outdoor space?

painted vertical garden

Do you have a vertical garden wall or a wooden fence?  Why not give them a coat of milk paint?

By adding color to outdoor, wooden structures, you’ll add colorful interest to your garden that will last throughout the year – even in the dead of winter.  I am excited to start this backyard project and paint my raised vegetable beds and fences with milk paint – I just have to decide which color – there are so many to choose from!

Want to learn more about milk paint?  Click here for information on where to buy it and how to apply.  Want to make your own?  Click here for a DIY tutorial.

You Don’t Say: Having a Moment



In the April/May 2015 issue of Birds & Blooms, we published this charming photo. When a seal and a cormorant got together along the San Diego coast, Greg Tucker from California was around to capture it. Can you help us put words to this moment? Leave your suggestion in the caption section below. We’ll publish a few of our favorites in the June/July issue!

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds Have Started Spring Migration!

Rob Ripma

Although it may seem crazy to think about, especially for many of us in areas of the United States that are still very cold and snowy, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are already heading north and are being seen in parts of the Southeastern US.

A very popular site for tracking this hummingbird’s northward migration is, which I bet many of our readers are familiar with. They added the first hummingbird of this year’s migration to their map on February 22. You can follow all of the reports from here. This website will give you a good idea of how migration is progressing, but to see more reports and more detailed locations of where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may be near you, check out eBird.

The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to arrive are the males but it's wont be long until females (like this one) are seen as well.

The first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to arrive are the males, but it’s wont be long until females (like this one) are seen as well.

Using the simple “Species Maps” function on eBird, I made a map of all reports for Ruby-throated Hummingbird during 2015. (Learn more about these maps and how to use eBird in this previous post.)

This map shows all reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during 2015. Use this link to follow along with migration on the interactive map on eBird.

This map shows all reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during 2015. Use this link to follow along with migration on the interactive map on eBird. This map shows all reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during 2015. Use this link to follow along with migration on the interactive map on eBird.

You can see that there have been many reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds already, including many that spent the winter in the Southeast. Keep an eye on this map as the spring progresses and you will see how the reports rapidly spread north!

Have any of you in the Southeast seen their first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year yet?

More Birds of Costa Rica

Jill Staake

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing bird photos here from my recent trip to Costa Rica, including the Resplendent Quetzal and hummingbirds of Costa Rica. During our time there, we saw more than 140 species of birds, and had the chance to take photos of many of them. Here, I’m sharing a few more birds of Costa Rica that we enjoyed spotting and photographing during our trip in early February. These aren’t backyard birds for us here in the U.S. – but they are for the lucky folks who live down there!

Costa Rica Birds Aracari

Jill Staake Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), Selva Verde Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Blue Gray Tanager

Jill Staake Blue-Gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus), Selva Verde Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Cacique

Scarlet-Rumped Cacique (Cacicus uropygialis), Selva Verde Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Golden Hooded Tanager

Jill Staake Golden-Hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata), Nature Pavilion, Chilamate

Costa Rica Birds Montezuma Oropendula

Jill Staake Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), Selva Verde Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Motmot

Jill Staake Broad-Billed Motmot (Electron platyrhynchum), La Selva Biological Reserve

Costa Rica Birds Redstart

Jill Staake Collared Redstart (Myioborus torquatus), Savegre Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Silver Throated Tanager

Jill Staake Silver-Throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala), Cinchona

Costa Rica Birds Toucan

Jill Staake Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii) – AKA Black-Mandibled Toucan (see NOTE 1 below), Selva Verde Lodge

Costa Rica Birds Trogon

Jill Staake Gartered Trogon AKA Northern Violaceous Trogon (Trogon caligatus), La Selva Biological Reserve

NOTE 1: The Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan has recently been determined to be a sub-species of the Black-Mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus). Since many guidebooks and online references (including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) still have these species listed separately, I’ve decided to leave both names here for reference going forward as both amateur birders and scientists get used to the change.

NOTE 2: The Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) was recently split off as a separate species from the Violaceous Trogon (T. violaceous). Some still refer to it as the Northern Violaceous Trogon, so I have left both common names here for reference.

Be a Butterfly Hero

Join the National Wildlife Federation in their new campaign to help save monarchs and attract butterflies.

Colorful Winter Gardens

It may be winter, but not all gardens are covered in snow. Enjoy these colorful Southwestern winter gardens.

Monarch Update: Winter 2014-15

Learn whether monarch butterflies are recovering from record low numbers and what plans are being made to help them with this monarch update.

Hummingbirds of Costa Rica

With more than 50 species found in this small country, the hummingbirds of Costa Rica put on an amazing show wherever you are.

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