Birds and Blooms Blog

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

Bird Species Profile: Common Goldeneye

Rob Ripma

As lakes begin to freeze in the winter, waterfowl species tend to become concentrated in the ever shrinking bodies of water. The lakes that hold on to open water the longest can quickly become amazing places to see a variety of duck species. When out birding recently, I was able to spend some time observing one of my favorite waterfowl species, Common Goldeneye. This bird species has a large range and can be found throughout most of North America as well as in Europe and Asia. You can see eBird reports on this map.

Male Common Goldeneyes are striking birds with very distinct plumage. (Photo by Brian Zwiebel - Sabrewing Nature Tours)

Male Common Goldeneyes are striking birds with very distinct plumage. (Photo by Brian Zwiebel – Sabrewing Nature Tours)


Female Common Goldeneyes are not quite as striking as the males but I still think they are beautiful ducks.

Female Common Goldeneyes are not quite as striking as the males but I still think they are beautiful ducks.


Have you ever had the chance to see a Common Goldeneye? Tell us about you experiences watching waterfowl in the comment sections!

2014 Photo Contest Winner!


We have a winner in our annual Backyard Photo Contest! Thanks to everyone who submitted photos. We really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who voted. Our winning photo of this black-capped chickadee was sent to us by James Ridley from Brighton, Michigan. He will receive the $1,000 Grand Prize!



Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder

Jill Staake

I’ve been having a lot of fun this year using natural elements in my holiday decor. Florida has several native holly bushes that can provide berries for decoration, with the bonus that our birds love to drop by and feast on them too. With this in mind, I created this very simple DIY bird feeder decor.

Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder

Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder Materials:

  • Wood vine openwork Christmas tree decor (I found these at Joann Fabric)
  • Live holly berry sprigs (I used native Dahoon Holly and Yaupon Holly)
  • Pruners or scissors
  • Twine (for hanging)
  • Ribbon or bow decoration (optional)

Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder Materials

Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder Assembly:

  • Tie a short length of twine to the top of the tree for hanging.
  • Trim and tuck holly sprigs into the spaces of the tree as desired. Use twine to hold in place as necessary.
  • Attach bow to top of tree, and hang for birds to find!

Christmas Tree DIY Bird Feeder


  • You can use any simple openwork Christmas decor you can find, like stars or angels, to create similar DIY bird feeders.
  • If holly berries aren’t available, you could also spread peanut butter on these and add sunflower or other seeds to provide a treat for your feathered friends this holiday season!

Get more DIY Bird Feeder projects by clicking here.

Maven: New Binocular Company Delivers

Snowy owl along Milwaukee's lakefront, spotted with the new Maven binoculars. Photo courtesy of Shari Kastner from New Berlin, Wisconsin

Snowy owl along Milwaukee’s lakefront, spotted with the new Maven binoculars. Photo courtesy of Shari Kastner from New Berlin, Wisconsin

Recently, we heard about a company called Maven, claiming to be a new and unique premium optics company with great binoculars. Of course, we get lots of information about binoculars each year, so I admit I was a little hesitant about their claims. But I decided to dig a little bit deeper to see what they were about. I’m glad I did! This is a cool company based out of Wyoming, and they really are bringing some new options to the optics world. What makes them unique is the ability to customize their binoculars. While I’ve seen binocular companies lightly dabble in colors or styles, they mostly stay the same. So it’s nice to see Maven offering something different.

And what about the quality of the binocular? I’m happy to report that it did quite well in our recent field test. I took them out to see a snowy owl, which has been hanging along Milwaukee’s lakefront not too far from our offices. I did a side-by-side comparison with another pair of binoculars that I had, and I was most impressed with the beautiful lighting and crispness of the view.

Now they may not be for everyone. They tend to be a little on the heavy side. Plus the model I tested starts at $900. But they definitely deserve some attention from the birding world. It’s very exciting to see a new company in the optics playing field.

If you’re in the market for some new binoculars and you want to splurge a little, I would definitely recommend the Maven full-size standard model, which is the one I tested. They will not disappoint. Here’s my final PROS and CONS list on the Maven binoculars. And be sure to read more about them yourself or design your own pair. It’s a lot of fun!


  • Stylish, both base model and customized options
  • Great quality with superb lighting and a clear, crisp view
  • Cool company based in Wyoming
  • Awesome bird for a logo


  • A little on the heavy side
  • A little on the pricey side (though comparable to other premium brands, and worth the price)
  • Customization is good, but it’d be nice to see even more design options

We recently put together a field test for binoculars, though the Mavens were not tested at the time To read about it, go here.

5 Great Garden Gift Ideas for Kids

Did you remember who first showed you how to plant a flower?  As a child, I remember my dad giving me my own plot of land in our backyard in Southern California.  He took me to the local nursery and let me pick out whatever I wanted to plant.  I remember growing cosmos, violas along with carrots.

Gardening Gift Ideas for Kids

Now as a mom (and grandma), I get to share the joy of gardening with my kids.  If you have children or grandkids, how about giving them a gift that will introduce them to gardening?

Here are a few of my favorites:

RootVue Farm Kids Gift Ideas

#1 The RootVue Farm

Kids are naturally curious about nature and how things grow – remember growing a bean or corn seed in a cup as a child?  Take it one step further with this fun growing kit where kids can plant and see carrots, onion and radishes grow before their own eyes.  The RootVue Farm sells for $29.99.

The Home Depot Pro Landscaper Garden Kit for Kids

#2 The Home Depot Kids Pro Landscaper Kit

My son loved to follow his dad around whenever he worked in the yard and this kit filled with gardening tools just their size makes it easy for kids to follow in their parents footsteps.  The complete Home Depot Pro Landscaper Kit sells for $35.00.

Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots Kids Gardening Book

#3 Kid’s Gardening Book

There are many great books tailored for kids that are filled with gardening projects that they can do with adults or on their own, once they are a bit older.  Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots is one of my favorite kid gardening books which sells for $13.95.

Toysmith Kids Garden Gloves Gift Ideas

#4 Kid-Sized Garden Gloves

While working in the garden is fun, dirty hands and fingernails aren’t.  Give kids their own pair gloves just like yours, except smaller.  Add a variety of packets of both flower and vegetable seeds and circle the date on the calendar when they can go outdoors and plant.  While they are waiting for the weather to warm up, help them sketch out what they will plant and where.  Toysmith Kids Garden Gloves cost $7.00.

Kid sized garden tools gift ideas

#5 Small Garden Tools for Kids

I’ve saved the best for last – kid-sized garden tools.  The little blue shovel my son used to plant our orange tree is the same one his oldest sister used over 15 years ago.  Metal tools with wooden handles, made for kids, can do everything adult-sized tools can – just on a smaller scale. True Temper Real Tools for Kids make a great gift idea and you’ll have some extra help in the garden come spring! The tools are sold individually and cost about $17.00 each.

These are just a few fun and unique gift ideas for the kids in your life.  Who knows, a gardening gift may be the first step on their life long love for gardening!

DIY Rose Jar Ornament

Inspired by the old-fashioned jars once found in every parlor, this DIY rose jar ornament is simple to make.

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