Cheap Shot | For the Birds: Phil counts his fine feathered friends | Cheap Shot | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Cheap Shot | For the Birds: Phil counts his fine feathered friends



First the dodos went extinct, then the passenger pigeon—now every bird has died. This isn’t hyperbole or due to the Asian bird flu, but because of math. In anticipation of the 11th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, I bought a bird feeder for my back yard and began counting birds. In other words, I did just as the name implies.

In order to qualify for the official bird count, I needed to take a random 15 minutes of my backyard’s time and record all the birds I observed. Since I was excited to see what ornithological wonders awaited me, I began counting birds as soon as I set up the feeder.

With my cat on my lap, I sat by the window overlooking the bird feeder, logged in to to help identify the birds and, with binoculars pressed to my eyes, I began counting. According to my random sample, there are no birds left on Planet Earth.

Doesn’t that just seem to be my luck? I spend $37 for bird stuff on the very day birds become extinct.

On the outside chance my quantum statistics had a factual error, I called my friend Kristen. Kristen might be categorized scientifically as Homo sapiens, but no one I know is more birdlike than she is. If properly classified, I imagine she could also be known as a common Gaviidae.

I told her about my bird sample and told her the Great Backyard Bird Count wasn’t the only reason I’d purchased the bird feeder. I thought installing an all-you-can-eat bird buffet (Cluck-A-Rama) outside my window would serve two purposes. First off, with all of this snow, I figured a free bird banquet would help the birds. Secondly, I thought bird window watching would make my cat and me happy. I imagined hours staring out the window, the cat purring and me cooing at the goldfinches, pine siskins and little juncos.

Thanks for nothing, birds. The next time I spend $37 to entertain my cat and me, I’ll just buy a can of tuna fish and a bottle of whiskey.

This is where Kristen cheeped in. She asked where I bought the food for my feeder and, as quickly as I answered her question, she pulled up in front of my house and took me to the Wild Bird Center (4898 Highland Dr.). Apparently, buying bird food at a big box store is like buying baby food at McDonalds.

Driving to the Wild Bird Center with Kristen, I felt like I was riding shotgun with the ghost of John Audubon. Kristen calmed my fears about the mass extinction of birds by playing what seemed like a collegiate version of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

“Chickadee, chickadee, towhee, finch,” she said, pointing to the birds that flew over her car.

When we arrived at the Wild Bird Center, owners Sheri and Owen Hogle parroted what Kristen had said about the bird food I recently purchased.

“Sometimes,” Sheri said, “the filler used in supermarket bird food is cattle feed.” It seems more likely you’d grow weeds than feed birds with this type of bulk seed. She showed me the center’s fresh mix of seeds and nuts, and then, like a chemist, she concocted a perfect mix for my backyard feeders. Her three-pound bag of seeds—looking good enough to eat during a baseball game—was also … um … cheap, cheap.

With peanuts, black oil and striped sunflower seeds, Sheri said I’d know if there were birds in my back yard within 10 minutes of placing this mix. I tuned out what she said next about it “also possibly taking over a year before some birds would notice my feeders.”

I didn’t pay attention to this last tidbit of information because the official backyard bird count ( is scheduled Feb. 15-18. Last year, more than 80,000 people counted more than 11 million birds and 404 of those tallies came from Utah. I don’t have a year to wait for the birds to come home to roost. I need them to come back from extinction and into my back yard this weekend.


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