Attracting Backyard Birds

How to attract the birds YOU WANT to your backyard!

First, grab your favorite bird book and make a list of the birds you want to see in your yard.  Second, do a little research on their wants and needs, such as what seed they like to eat or don’t like to eat (in case you want to discourage a certain species), what feeders they like to feed from, what nest boxes they might want to set up house in, what plants or flowers provide nesting material, food, safety, etc., and what water sources suit them best.  Then take a look at your backyard and ask yourself: Will my yard attract and keep the birds I want to attract?  If not, what steps must I take to get it there? On the most rudimentary level, you need to provide three things: food, shelter, and water.

Okay, let us examine each “How-To-Do-That” more fully.

Number one: Which birds do you want to attract to your yard? First, is the species native to your area? This information should be available in your birding book. Second, is your backyard habitat suitable for that species, even though they are noted as being common in your state?  For example, you may want Purple Martins and Purple Martins may be present in your geographic area, but your yard may not be suited for their needs.  There could be too many trees or no direct flight paths for the Martins. The same can be said regarding Bluebirds. Maybe you would love to have them, but your yard is just not suited to attract them because it is not big enough, or too close to man-made structures. Another consideration is the species migration pattern.  Do they only migrate through your area rather than settling there to nest and breed?  You can try to attract this traveling species to your yard, but the task will be difficult and probably frustrating, and the window in which you get to enjoy them could be quite small.  Where I live, for example, Baltimore Orioles pass through every year, and every year I get my feeders out early, fill them with oranges and grape jelly, and every year they stop in my yard, sometimes for weeks, but invariably they move on north, maybe no more than 10 miles, to breed.

Number two: What does each bird you chose to attract to your yard like?  Here is where the research will pay off. Time to grab your bird books again and learn about those birds. (1) What type of feeder (if any) is best for attracting your birds? (2) What is their favorite food? (3) Where and how do they like to nest?  Very briefly, here are a few quick points on some of the most popular groups. Clingers such as nuthatches and woodpeckers love peanut feeders and suet feeders, filled with whole peanuts (which Blue Jays love as well) peanut halves and suet logs or cakes.  Finches such as the goldfinch or house finch love Nyjer seed, so put up a Nyjer (thistle or finch) feeder or two. If possible, separate your finch feeders from the other feeders.  You will increase your small bird population if you do so. If you want to refine it further, put an upside-down finch feeder out for the American Goldfinch, which is the only finch to eat upside down.  This will increase your American Goldfinch population. They also make a finch seed mix, which they seem to love. Also add a mixed-seed tube feeder for the smaller birds and fill it with black oil sunflower seeds (very nutritious) or a quality mixed seed.  For the larger birds, like the Northern Cardinal for example, which are essentially ground feeding birds that have adapted to bird feeders, add a hopper and/or platform feeder and fill it with their favorites, black sunflower seed and safflower seed.  You could also put out seed developed especially for the Cardinal (or other species), such as Wild Delight’s Cardinal Mix.  The two feeders we mentioned, hopper and platform feeders, easily accommodate either of these seeds.  I would grab a bag of black sunflower seed and pour it into you new feeder! For hummingbirds, select a hummingbird feeder that is easy to fill and to clean, and one you enjoy looking at day after day.  Make sure it has bee guards and an ant moat.  I suggest putting at least two hummingbird feeders out, putting one out of the line-of-sight of the other so the male doesn’t dominant both feeders.  You can buy ready-to-consume nectar, ready to mix nectar, or you can make your own (4:1 sugar to water ratio).

If you want to provide nest boxes for your favorite birds, research the type of house and size of entry hole the bird requires.  Many birding books offer advice on types of birdhouses, or, if you are handy, build you own. In my yard, I have several nesting boxes out each spring and they are always filled throughout the summer.  For many years, I’ve had Black-capped Chickadees and nuthatches as renters. There is something remarkable about watching the cycle of life unfold just a few feet away; from courtship, to selecting and filling the nest box, to the laying of eggs (and my peeking in the box at the eggs and chicks), to the hatching of the chicks, to watching the parents feeding the youngsters, to watching the chicks fledge and leave the nest box.

Remember to add a water source to your yard.  It will attract many more species of birds than just those that dine at your feeders. That is also true of gardening around your bird species.  Again, grab your gardening birding book and check out what plants, shrubs, or flowers will enhance your backyard birding experience.

So, add the feeders, fill them with nutritious seed, suet and nectar, put up your houses, fill the birdbaths, plant your plants, and sit back and watch them come. It all goes well with a cup of coffee.


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