Birds and Blooms Blog

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

Bird Day Challenge: Kirsten’s Team


Meet Team Kirsten! We’re birding for Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the Birds & Blooms 2015 Bird Day Challenge at The Biggest Week in American Birding on May 9. Donate and show your support for Team Kirsten at our Crowdrise campaign page. We’re raising money for Cornell, a world leader in the study and conservation of birds.

Kirsten is the senior editor of Birds & Blooms, and she’s been with the magazine for almost 8 years. This will be her fourth time at The Biggest Week in American Birding. It’s quite possibly her favorite bird event of the entire year! Even though her team came in second in last year’s challenge with 79 species in 3 hours, it was an absolute blast. It’ll be even better this year with an amazing team, birding for a great cause.

Ken is a naturalist, author and environmental educator, currently living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He used to call northwest Ohio home, so he’s familiar with the area where we’ll be birding. So not only will he be sharing his mad birding skills with the team, he’ll be our navigator. You might know Ken from his frequent articles published in Birds & Blooms magazine.

Ashli grew up on the south shores of Lake Erie in Ohio and began her studies of the natural world at an early age. She now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She currently serves as the secretary for Rio Grande Bird Research, Inc., is a licensed bird bander, and is the project lead for her Black-throated Gray Warbler research project. Ashli is also the secretary of the New Mexico Ornithological Society and sits on the Steering Committee of the New Mexico Burrowing Owl Working Group.

Paul and his wife Rachel moved from Toronto to the country, where they spend time growing their own food and watching birds with their boy-girl twins. He has a love for birds and punk music, so he combined his two loves and created PRBY Apparel. The creative duo make and sell apparel designed specifically for bird-watchers. It’s seriously cool stuff, so check out his online store.

Please support Team Kirsten and Cornell’s bird research now. Even just $10 can make a huge difference!

Bird Day Challenge: Stacy’s Team


I am so proud to introduce you to my team for the Birds & Blooms 2015 Bird Day Challenge! Don’t forget to support my team in our Crowdrise campaign to raise money for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. This is a very worthwhile organization, and they’ve been pioneers in getting kids active in birding.


Stacy Tornio is the editor of Birds & Blooms, and she’s been with the magazine for 10 years. She loves Biggest Week in American Birding, and her favorite warbler is the black-and-white warbler. Last year, her team won the Big Day Challenge with 88 bird species in just 3 hours. This year, she expects to take home the title again, and she’s hoping to make it to 90 species.

RAYMOND (Stops at Nothing) VANBUSKIRK  

Raymond VanBuskirk has lived in New Mexico his entire life. His infatuation with birds started at the young age of 7, and since then, he’s been studying, banding and watching birds all around the world. He is one of the owners and guides of BRANT, a tour guide company created in 2012. You can find Raymond on one of his company’s tours or sporting Leica Optics at birding events and festivals throughout the country.


Douglas Gray was introduced to birding by his grandfather while growing up on the family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee. He currently resides in Franklin, Indiana and works as a senior engineering specialist…but his passion is birding. Doug leads bird hikes throughout Indiana and beyond, and is known for introducing people of color to the world of birding. However, Doug’s favorite hikes are with children, as he loves engaging with the upcoming generations of birdwatchers.

ROB (Smooth Operator) RIPMA

Rob Ripma, a life-long Indiana resident, is owner and creator of, the place to go to find birds. He is also a partner in Sabrewing Nature Tours leading birding and photography trips in the US and Central and South America. Rob currently sits on the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Board of Directors as Secretary. Rob is also a blogger for Birds & Blooms, and you can read his blog posts online.

Go support Team Stacy right now. Just a small contribution of $10 can really help!


Counting Rusty Blackbirds

Rob Ripma

When many backyard birders think about blackbirds, they generally hope that they don’t have any show up at their feeders to eat all of their seed, but there are blackbirds that many birders are excited to see. Rusty Blackbird is one of those species, and today marks the start of the 2015 Rusty Blackbird Blitz in the United States and Canada.

This species population has dropped 85-95% since the mid-1900s (according to the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group), and the annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz helps to continue tracking their population levels. You can learn more about the conservation issues facing the Rusty Blackbird on the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group website.

Be on the lookout for Rusty Blackbirds in the coming months!

Be on the lookout for Rusty Blackbirds in the coming months!

You can find out the dates for your state or province’s Rusty Blackbird Blitz here and submit your sightings on eBird! In order to make sure you submit the best data possible, be sure to read this guide to identifying Rusty Blackbirds.

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.

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.

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