Wilson's Warbler photo by Dale Bonk
When it comes to bird watching, some of us need look no further than our own back yard. Sure, it’s great to attend birding festivals, travel to exotic birding destinations, and head to the nearest marsh or conservancy to observe our feathered friends. But with a little thought and planning, you can make your own yard an inviting destination for birds. Adding even one of the following elements can significantly increase your property’s desirability for birds.
Birds require cover, nesting sites and sources of food. Planting trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants can provide insects, seeds, nuts, ample cover, and sites for nests. Why choose native plantings?
“Native plants, which have co-evolved with native wild birds, are more likely to provide a mix of foods - just the right size, and with just the right kind of nutrition - and just when the birds need them.” ~Stephen Kress, National Audubon Society
Trees and shrubs also afford protection from predators all year ‘round. These websites will give you ideas:
National Wildlife Foundation - Backyard Habitats
Audubon at Home
Water for birds
A source of water is important to birds, and can be offered in a variety of ways: from a simple birdbath (heated during winter in cold climates) to a pond with waterfall and stream for birds to linger in, drink, and bathe. The sight and sound of moving water attracts birds from the air, and also adds to the charm of your garden. I have a simple two-container pond with a small pump that keeps the water circulating. The birds (and visiting frogs) love it! A mister is an easy and inexpensive way to add movement to the water in your birdbath. A mister can also be positioned separately with a hose near perching branches; hummingbirds have been observed hovering in a mister on hot days. Replenish standing water often, especially in hot weather.
Food for birds
Bird feeding has become so popular that these days, bird feeders come in every size, shape, and design imaginable for seed, suet, and nectar feeding. If possible, position feeders near some type of cover (brush pile or shrub) so birds can escape predators, and buy seed from a reliable source: birds don’t like stale or old seeds. Be wary of mixes which include a majority of “fillers” like millet. If you notice seeds left on the ground under your feeder, switch to a blend your visitors like, or feed the best overall attractant: black oil sunflower seeds.
Suet (beef kidney fat) is a great choice for birds in cold temperatures. Suppliers sell specially processed cakes often supplemented with seeds, nuts, and berries. I leave suet out in the summer; as long as it doesn’t turn rancid, it gives me a chance to see Downy Woodpecker adults bringing their fledglings in for a first taste.
Other foods: I put out orange halves for Baltimore Orioles and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, nectar for my hungry, feisty hummingbirds, peanuts for White-breasted Nuthatches and mealworms for my Eastern Bluebirds.
Many bird species will utilize bird houses: wrens, swallows, bluebirds, martins, and chickadees to name a few. Find out what birds nest in your region and buy a bird house with one of those in mind. It’s easy to find plans online for building your own, and can be a fun family project! You can assist birds during nesting season by putting out nesting materials for them to use: lint from the dryer (untreated with dryer sheets or fabric softeners), hair from your hairbrush (or your cat or dog brush), or bits of yarn, string or twine no longer than 2″ in length.
No matter what size your yard (or balcony), you can transform it into a place that birds can’t resist. There are plenty of books and websites to refer to for inspiration. The sooner you begin, the sooner you can sit back, relax, and enjoy birds up close, right at home!
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.