Friday, April 29, 2011

Creating Your Own Bird Sanctuary

palmwarb06When 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.

Native plantings
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.dscf3072

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.  blogbbird112a

Bird Housing
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!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.


  1. Where can I obtain more information on the two container pond with a small pump? I would like to purchase one for our Tucson backyard.

  2. Hi Mel,
    I purchased two containers: a kidney-shaped one(where the pump is located)which I sunk in to the ground with the rim a few inches above ground level, and a taller round one placed behind, its base a little below ground and tipped slightly so water from it would run in to the lower kidney-shaped pond. Though it isn't easy to see in the photo, to the left of the upper pond is a large antique coffee grinder, shaped like a coffee pot, with a spout. This proved to be a nice visual touch, but the spout also served as a place to fasten the tube from the pump. Therefore the water "comes from" this point, falls in to the round pond, flows down into the kidney-shaped one, and then is pumped back through a tube and up to the spout again.

    The place where the slow stream of water comes in to the lower kidney-shaped pond is where I built a platform for the birds. I wanted to position it directly under the stream of water. Really, it's just a brick, an inverted flower pot, and a choice flat natural rock on top. I keep this rock just under the water level so birds can drink or bathe.

    I put a potted lily pad plant in the top pond and another spikey, grass-like pond plant submerged in the lower pond. I camouflage the black plastic edge with rocks and surround it with various perennial plantings.

    A couple goldfish inhabit the lower pond, and frogs journey from who-knows-where and sit on the lily pads. The gentle sound of the water is lovely, and the birds can drink from any place on the rim. In short, I love my pond!

    Best of luck with your project. If you have further questions, e-mail me at



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