Itís that time of year when winged travelers everywhere are making their spring migrations, leaving behind warm climates for adventures farther north, hopefully stopping along the way so we can catch a glimpse! If youíre lucky you might spot a Wilsonís warbler flying overheard, or a white pelican soaring over the Mississippi.
Amid the movement, bird nerds everywhere want to know: What can we do to make our own backyards accommodating for these frequent flyers?
I recently sat down with Dave Mehlman, Director of† The Nature Conservancy’s Migratory Bird Program, for some tips. He says creating a bird-friendly backyard is fairly simple; it boils down to providing four things: food, water, shelter and a place to nest. Hereís what you need to know:
Sunflower seed is preferred by most species. Another idea is to obtain some thistle seed, which goldfinches and siskins go crazy over. You can pick up many styles of bird feeders at the store, or just set out some seed and fruit on a plate. If you are in a location with lots of hummingbirds, donít forget to fill their feeders.
But watch out for squirrels! You can outsmart them by mounting a feeder on a pole with a baffle, which prevents squirrels from reaching the seed. Another option is to look for a special feeder with a counter-weighted perch; if something as heavy a squirrel lands there, it blocks access to the food.
If you live in bear country, take note: bird feeders may attract bears. We advise only leaving feeders out for birds in the winter, when local birds abound but bears are hibernating.
Water not only quenches thirst, it allows birds to bathe and keep clean. At its simplest, a birdbath can be a saucer or dish of water placed outside. Keep it filled and keep it clean. It needs to be shallow water, not deep. If you really want to ďdrive birds wild,Ē Dave says to consider a birdbath with dripping water.
Shelter is necessary for the birds to roost, sleep and take cover from predators. You can provide basic shelter with landscaping. The key is variety; birds like different types, ranging from shrubs to trees of different sizes. If youíre behind on yard work, take heart: Birds also love brush piles, which provide cover from predators like cats or hawks.
Most important: Eliminate any insecticides. The more organic you can be, the better all around.
4) A Place to Nest
Dave says an everyday birdhouse will do just fine. If you have trees in your backyard, you might also try leaving a dead limb available for species like woodpeckers to create holes in. To be really accommodating, leave some nest materials like straw and feathers outside for birds to find and use.
So there you have it! The basics of creating a bird-friendly backyard (thanks for the advice, Dave!). Try out some of our tips, share your own in the comments section and let us know what species you glimpse outside.
[Image: House finch on birdfeeder. Image source: donjd2/Flickr via a Creative Commons license]
By Katherine Sather / The Nature Conservancy