Did you know that bird watching is the most popular hobby in America? Millions of us love our birds! I've always had a love of the outdoors and nature, thanks to my parents, but it wasn't until we moved into our place here at Nutwood that I really got into bird watching. I love to sit out on the deck in the summer and watch them, and in the winter, I watch them through the window. It's a very fun and healthy hobby, and I encourage everyone to put up a feeder and see what happens. You might be surprised at the visitors you get! Here are a few suggestions, with commentary from me.
ATTRACTING MORE WILD BIRDS TO YOUR BACKYARD
Attracting the widest variety of wild birds to your own backyard can be very rewarding if you follow some basic guidelines. There are four elements to offer in your backyard to ensure numerous and frequent visits by wild birds.
ELEMENT #1: FOOD
To attract the widest variety of wild birds, you should consider placing a wide variety of bird feeders and food around your backyard. Consider different types of feeding stations such as a platform feeder for ground feeding birds, hanging feeders for perching birds, and suet feeders for insect-eating birds.
I hang four feeders at the moment: a seed feeder (I use black oil sunflower seed, which appeals to many species), two suet feeders (because we have so many woodpeckers here), and a thistle feeder for the finches. When there is snow on the ground, I also like to toss a cup of high quality mixed seed onto the deck for the ground feeders like juncos and doves. In the summer, I put out oranges for the Orioles and Catbirds. It's been a struggle lately to keep the squirrels out of the seed feeder--no matter what we do, they seem to find a way to get into it. Our deck is a Rube Goldberg-like mix of bent hooks, slinkys, and wire hangers. Yesterday, the squirrels cleaned out the seed feeder. We haven't had to use a squirrel baffle up on the deck yet, but it looks like we're going to have to figure out something new.
ELEMENT #2: SHELTER AND PLACES TO RAISE YOUNG
Wild birds feel more secure if they have shelter to protect themselves from the elements and predators. Trees and large shrubs are welcome as places to raise and protect their young. Consider offering nesting boxes and nesting materials in the spring for the specific species of birds you want to attract. Plant native trees and shrubs that provide cover to attract birds.
This is no problem here at Nutwood. With 11 acres, about half wooded and half wetlands, there are plenty of trees and brush for birds to use as shelter and nesting places. A few years ago, we had a massive, half-dead oak tree in our front yard that keeled over in a bad storm. We cleared the limbs off of the pathway from the house to the road, but left the rest of the tree for a nesting area for woodpeckers--they love to make their nests in dead trees. We have also hung several houses--they're mostly for decoration, but we have house wrens that return here every year and build new nests in our various houses, like the Route 66 trailer, and the little Meremac Caverns barn that I painted.
ELEMENT #3: WATER
Probably one of the single most important elements to include in your backyard bird habitat is water.
Water can be a scarcity no matter where you live. If you live in cold winter areas, your ponds and streams will freeze. If you live in hot weather areas, summers can be very arid, and all areas can experience drought. Birds need water for drinking and for bathing. I read something recently in which a person wrote that heated bird baths are nothing but a marketing scam, and "warm water" only harms the birds because it results in "frozen flight feathers" [sic]. Heated bird baths are not an avian jacuzzi, for Pete's sake. It's heated just enough to keep the water liquid, and available for the birds to have a drink. Birds seem to be pretty smart, and they know better than to bathe in the winter. In the summer, it's fun to watch birds cool off in the pond--occasionally, I'll see them in the bird bath, but they usually use it as a source of drinking water. A source of fresh water is an essential for any bird watching program, and is recommended by Audubon and National Wildlife Federation.
ELEMENT #4: VARIETY OF FOLIAGE AND HABITAT
Wild birds live in a great variety of habitats. The greater variety or diversity that you create in your backyard can attract more species of wild birds. Offer food, water and nest sites at all levels including:
grass or ground cover (2" to 1')
shrubs (2' to 5')
small trees (5' to 15')
tall trees (15' to 40')
Also consider plants and foliage that produce berries, seeds, fruits, nuts, sap and nectar for year round food, as well as to provide nesting materials.Shrubs and trees should be selected that are dense enough to support nests, but so birds can move freely among the branches to escape from predators. Of all the trees and shrubs to select from, your best investment is an evergreen.
Again, not a problem at Nutwood, although we don't have a lot of evergreens--we've been planting more every year we've lived here. One of the most unique things about our place is the different habitat environment it provides. We have hardwood forest along with marshy wetlands, and it provides a diverse habitat for so many different types of wildlife. Our NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification was pretty high, four and a half out of five, I believe. We've tried to plant native bushes and shrubs, like Nannyberry, Serviceberry, and other plants for our area.
By the way, I don't know if I mentioned that we saw four 8-point bucks in our back yard the other night. A hunter's wet dream, I suppose, but we don't allow hunting on our property, and I would much rather shoot the deer with a camera than with a gun or bow. I know that plenty of people hunt...but I can't even imagine shooting a gentle creature like a deer and then slicing it open stem to stern, and then gutting it. Even our turkeys are beautiful in my eyes, and I would never want to kill one of them, either. Just my opinion, of course.