Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bird list

Although I’ve been spending a lot of time posting on this blog about birds, and spending time in the garden watching birds, it has been our new chickens
However, after a social at our garden, I was reminded it was time to update my garden bird list. After some investigating, I realized the bird list on my blog had become woefully out dated (and I realized I was not the Montana "Chicken" Gardener, but the Montana "Wildlife" Gardener). I hadn’t formally updated the bird list on my blog since about 2009. 

Despite that I spend a lot of my time at work building, maintaining, accessing and editing databases, evidently my bird list is not in one! So, after some copy and pasting, and tediously searching my blog, I have revised my bird list. And here it is.

For those interested in exclusively the number, that number is 71.

Some details about my bird list, this list probably under-represents some species (like flycatchers- I don’t even really try with those!), and I only count birds that use the garden. That is, I don’t count fly-over’s, or even birds I can see from my yard- they have to be doing something like scratching on the ground, gleaning insects from leaves, bathing, nesting, eating one another, etc… To me flyovers are just happenstance- they do not reflect what I am trying to accomplish in the garden, that is, to create habitat for a variety of wildlife using plants native to the Missoula area.

I was struck by several things after reviewing the list.

  1. Apparently I need to spend some time reading my own blog. This year I remarked that the vesper sparrow as a new arrival in the garden- they same way I made that proclamation in 2010. 
  2. Birds that were once annual common like common redpoll and pine siskin in the winter, I haven’t seen in 10 years. 
  3. A lot of common, local birds aren’t in the garden, and some uncommon local birds are. 
  4. If I counted fly-over’s, I would have a lot more birds on my list (bald eagles, red tailed hawks, osprey, great blue heron, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks, Canada geese, canvasbacks, blue winged teal, mallards, California gulls, etc…) regularly fly overhead. Even rock doves. 
  5. I grudgingly acknowledged the trash birds- the one’s I try to keep out; house sparrows, Eurasian collard doves, and European starlings in this list
In all, it is pretty cool to see this list. I can remember almost every one of these species, and I am really excited about attracting them to our little garden on 8th Street. And it all comes down to the fact that birds eat insects, and insects need our native plants.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The coop is complete, and full of chickens.

We were the highest bidders at the 4H/ FFA livestock auction on the GRAND CHAMPION layer pen!  It was an exciting day.  Not only did we get some beautiful Rhode Island Red hens, had fun at the auction, but we got to support 4H and some young livestock producers.  My wife was in 4H when she was young (she raised steer) and has a lot of very fond memories of it, so it was really gratifying for us to be on the other end of the auction and be able to buy some animals from kids.
If you have never been to a livestock auction, and in particular a 4H/ FFA auction, you are missing out of such an important part of the community.
The auction was a lot of fun- it was a great and supportive crowd full of local business people supporting the kids and the organizations, the auctioneer was excellent and the spotters were super engaged.  It is wonderful to see the kids with their animals, and the fair and auction represents a culmination of months of work.  All, when asked what they were going to do with their money, said "it was going toward savings".  It makes you feel good about the world.
We were only looking for two hens (based on space and the number of eggs we eat), but we ended up buying a pen of three, now we have to decide what to do with the third.  We asked about donating it back to the auction, but that was forbidden.  So I think we are just going to have three hens.  Perhaps expanding the run, too.

So, are these backyard chickens and example of sustainability?

These chickens will provide us with local eggs, and we can control how they are kept and fed, which is nice, but fiscally, this endeavor is not sustainable. I have enjoyed designing and building the coop, and the opportunity to support 4H has been great.  Between the cost of the annual permit, building materials, the Grand Champion layers, it will take us roughly a decade to save money on eggs!  We don't even eat many eggs.  However, we have met our goals on this one.
Proudly displaying our framed chicken permit in the coop.  It has only been recently (2007) that backyard chickens have been allowed in Missoula, and like most things in Missoula, the passage of an ordinance to allow up to six hens was controversial.  Like roundabouts and most things that are proposed, opponents actually said, that if passed, this would kill many children (I am not making this up).  Like the roundabouts, and backyard chickens, they passed. My wife was part of the city council then (and now), and a strong supporter of this ordinance when it was adopted.  So, when I say the permit is proudly displayed, I am proud as a chicken owner, but really proud of my wife's work on council for so many things, including this ordinance.

Here are some pictures with some more coop details:
 On top of the run is a green roof where I planted strawberries.
 Miles (our wired-haired Chihuahua) does not know what to make of the new residents.
 A couple of the roosts.

Yes, I embellished the rafter tails by cutting eggs...
it only made sense after cutting a hen-shaped vent.