Wild bird watching is one of the most popular outdoor hobbies in the country, second only to gardening.

There are several reasons people “flock” to this fascinating pastime. There are a variety of birds to watch – each new season brings different birds for migration and nesting. You can enjoy it if you’re eight or 80. And it’s easy to become involved – no lessons, expensive equipment and no big-time commitment (unless you really become hooked).

All it takes is food, water and shelter.

Birds don’t need food from humans to survive, but the food we offer makes their lives easier, and we benefit from their beauty.

Different birds eat different types of seeds, so the greater variety of food you offer, the more types of birds you will attract.

There’s an economical mix of bird seed that includes sunflower, soft wheat, cracked corn and white millet. It attracts the cardinal, indigo bunting, mourning dove and white crowned sparrow.

Just empty the seed into a large, covered fly-through feeder that you can leave on the ground (unless you have outdoor cats), perch on a pole or hang from a tree limb.

In the winter, seeds with high oil content are favored. The Oil Sunflower seed provides heat and energy, and its softer shell makes it easy for smaller birds to open. The Niger seed attracts smaller song birds such as finches.

Cracked corn also is considered a heat food because of its high oil content and is best used during the colder months. You might even attract some game birds to your yard. Other cracked corn connoisseurs are the blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, bluebird and pheasant.

For the beautiful cardinal, try a mix with safflower. Songbirds enjoy peanuts, and real fruit attracts birds that don’t eat seeds.

All you need to complete the meal is water, which is extremely important to birds. You can find beautiful bird baths at any landscape or garden store. Keep the water fresh and no deeper than three inches.

If you have a large picture window, put a decal on it to prevent birds from flying into it.

Now sit back, relax and watch these beautiful creatures – it’s the perfect way to get cheep thrills.

And a special note: Be sure to visit the SPCA’s adoption facility at NorthPark featuring a variety of animals. It’s open mid-November through Dec. 23.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.