Attracting birds to your acreage
One of the many pleasures of country life is the opportunity for bird watching. To maximize your enjoyment, provide the necessities (food, shelter, water), plant trees and shrubs that birds find irresistible, and make sure predators don't take over their habitats.
Feed 'em good
The kind of feeder to use depends on the species of bird you want to attract, says Allison Wells, outreach director for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Here are a few examples:
Suspended tube feeders attract chickadees, tufted titmice, redpolls, and goldfinches, among others.
Hopper feeders, which are hung from trees or mounted on poles, have perches or hoppers that are favored by grosbeaks, cardinals, and jays.
Hummingbird feeders are filled with a sugar and water solution. Wells advises using a bee guard with hummingbird feeders, because birds won't visit once the bees take up residence.
Thistle feeders have small portholes that are just the right size for finch bills. The portholes prevent other birds from feeding and keep the seed from gushing out, she says.
Fruit feeders tempt thrushes, robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds.
Suet feeders are best used in temperatures of 70¡F. or cooler, as hotter weather can cause the suet cakes to turn rancid. They are attractive to woodpeckers and orioles, among other species.
Ground feeding works well to attract birds such as mourning doves, towhees, and sparrows. Scatter white millet on the ground or place in a low platform feeder.
Place feeders in a sheltered area that you can reach easily but is within 10 feet of trees or shrubs, so birds have a place to hide from cats and other predators. To avoid waste, keep feeders filled with one type of seed. Birds don't care for many seeds in commercial mixes and will kick them out to get to their favorite kind -- black-oil sunflower seeds. "You have to be careful about seeds littering the area around the feeder," says Gabrielle Rubinstein, with Monrovia Growers in Azusa, California. "If the ground is moist, the seeds can germinate and become weeds."
Water 'em well
"Water, especially moving water, helps birds stay clean and parasite-free," says Wells. A birdbath can be as simple as a planter turned upside down with a saucer of water on top of it. "There are lots of little things you can buy that will keep water flowing," says Wells. "That's very important because most water sources freeze up in the winter and dry up in the summer."
Flowers to plant
The more plants you have, the more birds you'll have. To help you figure out what to plant, check around areas where birds perch. "Look underneath trees and along fences where the grass doesn't get mowed to see what's growing there naturally," says Rochester, New York, landscape architect Stuart MacKenzie. Plants that grow in reclaimed fields, such as barberries, dogwoods, lilacs, and hawthorns, make a good nesting habitat, he says.
Any berry-producing plant is a good choice, but as a general guideline, use a mix of vines, shrubs, and trees of different heights. Bird-friendly varieties include bee balm, hazel, holly, mountain ash, trailing blackberry, viburnum, juniper, honeysuckle, weigela, buddleja (butterfly bush), echinacea, and salvia. Hummingbirds flock to plants with trumpet-shaped flowers, such as digitalis, delphinium, and campsis.
Give 'em shelter
Birdhouses, also called nest boxes, are used during the breeding season and for roosting in the winter by cavity-nesting birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, and bluebirds. If you live in the South, have birdhouses in place by February. In northern regions, place them by mid- to late March. Golf courses, cultivated fields, gardens, and yards are good habitats for birdhouses as long as they're in areas where pesticides and herbicides aren't used. The chemicals are harmful to birds and destroy insects, an important component of their diet.
Not all birds thrive in the same habitat. For some, it's an open field, lawn, or orchard, while others prefer forests, woodlots, and yards with mature trees. Whether you buy a birdhouse or build it yourself, it should be sturdy, accessible, easy to clean, and the right design for the species, with entrance holes and other features that keep out unwanted birds. Predator guards will deter intruders.
Resist the impulse to rake twigs, leaves, and other dead vegetation. Ground-feeding birds like to pick through moist, decaying leaves for worms and other insects. Start a brush pile that birds can use as winter shelter. If you are lucky it will became a nest for a pair of song sparrows.
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