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Why & How I Lure Birds To My Garden

Why & How I Lure Birds To My Garden

Until my son was born, I didn’t care much about birds.

I grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., where forests fell in favor of track housing for World War II veterans and their young families.

Our postage stamp lot featured a privacy hedge of young pine trees; a weeping willow I’d play under in summer; and a tulip magnolia that put on a glorious show each April, then dropped its magenta petals into a rotting heap.

Not exactly a wildlife paradise. And the few winged creatures that perched on our roof we identified merely as “birds,” as in, “Those damned birds pooped on my car.”

My state of bird ignorance changed when our son was born, and we moved onto a half-acre in Northern Virginia blessed with old-growth trees.

When Ben was about 18 months and just beginning to talk, I hung a bird feeder outside our kitchen window. It wasn’t easy finding things to talk about with a toddler, so I figured a bird parade would be a great conversation-starter.

“Ben, look at the blue bird. See the two birds eating? Now there’s a third bird.”

It wasn’t Hamlet’s soliloquy, but it was more interesting (for me) than reading “Runaway Bunny” for the gazillionth time.

I bought field guides that beefed up my chatter. “There’s a Cardinal. A Chickadee. A Titmouse. A Goldfinch.”

I learned to identify birds from their color, size, and shape of their beaks. Pretty soon I could tell a Chipping Sparrow from a House Sparrow; a Grackle from a Crow.

I knew I was hooked one June morning when a glorious bird I had never seen landed next to me in my flower garden. I froze, memorizing its beautiful features– black head, pale beak, a slash of scarlet down its white breast.

It was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. And the joy I felt seeing it, identifying it, and telling Ben all about it, confirmed that I had become a certified bird lover.

I soon discovered, that birds were more than just topics of conversation: They were friends to my garden.

 

A Garden’s Feathered Friend

Birds play many roles in a garden.

  • Pollinators: Nectar-sipping birds, like hummingbirds, help pollinate flowers and vegetables.
  • Seed Spreaders: Birds eat my birdseed, then poop it onto the garden, where volunteer sunflowers suddenly spout.
  • Pest controllers: Birds eat many garden pests, including mosquitoes and aphids, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.
  • Weed Whackers: Finches and sparrows gobble huge quantities of weed seeds.

 

How You Can Attract Birds

 

Feed Them A Meal

Who doesn’t want a free lunch? But know which birds you want to attract before buying a feeder and feed.

Cardinals like sunflower seeds, while goldfinches like to eat smaller, thistle seed. Some birds like to perch on feeders, while others like to grab onto a cage with their feet.

Whatever you chose, keep the feeder clean and stocked with fresh food. And be patient. It sometimes takes birds a few weeks to find your feeder and become loyal patrons.

 

Give Them a Bath and Drink

Birds need fresh water to drink year-round. And when it’s hot, they love to splash around in a cool bath.

I used to buy expensive, cement birdbaths, which lasted a few seasons then ultimately cracked because it was too much trouble to lug them inside in winter.

Then I got smart and bought some big, cheap, flowerpot saucers. I fill the saucers with water, and the birds — especially robins – love to splash around in them.

For added fun and safety, I buy solar fountain inserts that I submerge in the saucers. The inserts create beautiful sound and movement in my garden, and they agitate the water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

 

Build Them a Home

The best way to keep birds in your backyard is to give them a permanent home. You can buy birdhouses of infinite sizes, shapes and colors. Make sure you place them high enough so predators can’t eat your nesting friends.

Sometimes, I grow birdhouse gourds in my garden. I harvest them in fall, drill a 1-inch hole in their bellies, spray with a high-gloss polyurethane, then hang ‘em high.

Each year, a new Mama Sparrow moves into the gourd I’ve hung over the porch light outside my kitchen window. All spring I watch her feather her nest and feed her hatchlings.

I wonder if she talks to them about the humans feeding outside her home.

 

 

Read more: Nature, Environment, Lawns & Gardens, Natural Pest Control, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Activities

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Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon, creator of frugalgarden.com, is an award-winning journalist, avid gardener and fly-fisher. She lives in Northern Virginia on a half acre that always needs weeding. Please visit her on Twitter (@kaplan_lisa) and Facebook (Lisa Kaplan Gordon)

185 comments

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3:25PM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

I spend many hours watching the local birds visiting my balcony and the hawks riding the thermals high in the sky.

3:43AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

I'm on vacation ... away from home ..... hope "my" birds are OK

5:11AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

Thanks for a lovely article. I enjoyed reading it.

11:25PM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

ty

3:50PM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

very nice! ty!

2:46AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

ty

6:04PM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

I use flower pot saucers as water dishes for birds and for the bees too. On one side of the saucer I put pretty rocks so that the bees have somewhere to land without getting wet.
Though feeders help keep rats and other pests from eating the seed, anyone who has watched birds eating (more like attempting to eat) from a feeder will notice the bird drama as they fight each other for a position at the feeder. I prefer to broadcast seed out on the grass in the mornings. I only set out enough for the birds to eat in an hour (about 1/2 cup) so it doesn't sit around all day and night. Watching birds forage in grass is so much more enjoyable; they share, feed fledglings, scratch to uncover hiding seeds, and chirp happily at each other instead of fighting.
Because we have ducks, the neighborhood cats have learned to stay the #$%^ out of our yard, but if cats prowl your yard, try to put bird feeders where cats cannot stalk and attack the birds.

3:28PM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

After a couple slow years, I'm having a bumper crop of birds at my feeder. I was content with my handful of sparrows and mourning doves, but I'm ecstatic with the variety this year. Nice to be feeding more than the squirrel quints.

12:13PM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Beautiful article !

7:41AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Thank you :)

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