Gina Periou loves birds, though it took her a while to catch the birding bug.
“My mom was a birder. I remember going out to look for orioles’ nests and talking about the birds in her yard. Every year in spring, she’d say, ‘Oh, my prothonotary’s back,’ (referring to a prothonotary warbler). She was always talking about one bird or another.
“I didn’t care much when I was a teen. I’d roll my eyes and think to myself, ‘Enough with the birds!’ But I would tell the whole world if I had a prothonotary warbler in my yard now,” Periou said.
She also wishes she’d paid more attention to her mother’s bird expertise.
Periou co-owns Wild Birds Unlimited, a Southside shop that caters to birders of all levels of expertise, and had to learn as she went, she said.
The shop has become a kind of home base for a bevy of knowledgeable customers who stop by from all over south Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, sharing both their expertise and their bird sightings and stories.
“I’ve learned a lot just by listening to what the customers are talking about,” she said, adding that the shop serves as a sort of information clearinghouse.
If a birder wants to spot a particular breed, some customer may have seen one and may be willing to share the location, or give them some good bets.
Sometimes, they work together as bird detectives.
“I had a lot of customers come in and ask where the birds were this year,” Periou said. Especially American goldfinches, a species that spends the winter in the south. They are bright yellow in spring, just before they fly back north, but show only faint traces of their signature color now.
“Customers reported they could hear them, but they couldn’t see them.”
In general, feeder activity is reported to be below average because of the abundance of natural foods at this time, she said.
“We don’t put out birdseed to keep birds from starving. We put out birdseed to get them to come closer so we can see them,” she said. “If they have natural food, they’ll eat natural food, so just be patient. They are there; they’re just up in the trees. This will change with cooler temperatures. Birds will look to feeders to supplement their natural food sources.”
Her tips for attracting the birds?
“Fresh water. Birds need to clean their feathers in water, and they recognize moving water as fresh water,” she said.
So, keep your birdbath fresh and clean, Periou said, and if you don’t have one already, add a dripper or a device that agitates the water to keep it moving.
Keep your bird feeder clean, as well.
“Feeder activity will increase as birds eat more, just to stay warm in the colder weather. They can be drawn to feeders with fresh food, and clean feeders. Suet or suet dough is an excellent supplement to seed blends because it is a high-energy food that gives the birds exactly what they need,” she said.
Put out small amounts of feed at a time until you see the birds eating. “The fresher the food is, the better. They won’t eat old food unless they have no better options. If you have seed from last year, and didn’t keep it in the refrigerator, it may be too old.”
Look for the American goldfinches after Christmas, she said.
For information on birds, advice or birdseed, visit Wild Birds Unlimited, 8342 Perkins Road, in Baton Rouge or www.wbu.com/batonrouge.