For all of us who own and love pets, it is a natural extension to want to enjoy and care for the wild animals who visit our back yards. In the case of wild birds, this has become a national pastime. After gardening… feeding and watching birds is in second place as the most popular outdoor hobby in the U.S. ; in fact, more than 60 million people engage in this activity each year.
Whether we are at home or at work, we put feeders right outside our windows so that we can watch the birds' colorful antics up close. The birds' everyday behavior is fun to observe, too. We enjoy watching the brilliant goldfinches, blue jays, and bright-red cardinals indulge in the seed we put out for them. A hummingbird feeder is attached to the window, and it is a treat to observe these avian jewels in action just 2 feet away.
For those of you who are already involved in bird watching below are some tips to help you attract more birds to your yard. If you have not yet tried this addictive hobby, then, here are some suggestions on how to get started.
No matter if you live, in the country, the suburbs, or the city, you can attract wild birds…as long as the areas near you provide good habitat for these winged creatures. Do you have trees and shrubs on your property? Is there a forest, field, lake, or city park with shrubs and trees nearby? Do you live on a tree-lined street? Have you seen birds from your house, or does a neighbor feed birds? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you can easily attract birds to your home.
All birds need the same four essential things: food, water, nesting spots, and shelter. The more of each of these elements you can provide, the more birds you will attract.
Putting out birdseed is one of the easiest ways to attract birds, and there are three basic types of feeders that hold seed: trays, hoppers, and tubular feeders.
A tray is a shallow box with a screen on the bottom. Seed is sprinkled in the tray, and the screen lets rain flow through so that the seed stays dry. Birds who naturally feed on the ground will also feed at trays. These include mourning doves, northern cardinals, and dark-eyed juncos.
A hopper feeder (or ranch feeder) looks like a little house (with clear plastic sides) set on a tray. You open the roof and pour in the seed, which is then gradually distributed into the tray as the birds feed. Hopper feeders attract many of the same birds that come to a tray feeder, but they also attract chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, to name a few others.
Tubular feeders are usually clear plastic tubes that have several portals and perches. You pour the seed in the top and the birds land on the perches to eat out of the portals. These feeders attract mostly those birds that like to feed in trees, including goldfinches, house finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, and nuthatches.
Be sure to keep your feeders clean and full of fresh seed. If feeders are left empty, the birds may go elsewhere. Your living situation, in part, will determine where you place your feeders. If you have a yard, you can put up a wide variety of feeders. If you live in an apartment and your only outdoor space is a window, you can attach feeders to a window or window ledge (many feeders have little suction cups that attach the feeder to a window). These window feeders can hold seed, water, suet, or a liquid nectar solution (for hummingbirds).
Given the many types of feeders available, even city people can attract wild birds. For example, a person who lives in an apartment or in a retirement community with a small deck can still attract many types of birds. You can put out a tubular feeder filled with seed, a wire cage filled with suet, and a hummingbird feeder filled with nectar. This bounty attracts northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, and ruby-throated hummingbirds. You could even have a place for robin nesting overhead or install a birdhouse for a nesting house wren.
What about seed?
One of the favorite foods of feeder birds is sunflower seed, which is available in two varieties. Striped sunflower seeds are large and have black and white stripes; black-oil sunflower seeds are smaller and all black. Most birds prefer the black-oil sunflower seeds because the hulls are thinner and easier to open and because the kernel is richer in oil.
You can also get sunflower seeds without the hulls. These are often called sunflower chips, and they have the added advantage of leaving no messy buildup of debris around the base of the feeder. Sunflower seeds can be put in all three types of feeders mentioned above.
You can also buy mixed seed. This usually consists of small light-colored seeds (such as millet) mixed with sunflower seeds. Millet is a favorite of birds who feed on the ground, including sparrows, mourning doves, and juncos, so this seed should be placed only in the tray and hopper feeders. When you buy mixed seed, be sure to get a brand that has a high proportion of sunflower seeds, as this will attract more birds.
Another popular seed is thistle. This is not the seed from our common wildflowers of the same name but a seed that is imported from Ethiopia and India . Thistle seeds are small and black and loved by all sorts of finches, including the American goldfinch. Thistle must be placed in special tubular feeders that have tiny holes to keep the small seeds from pouring out.
You can also offer suet (a hard, white beef fat that many birds like to eat in the wintertime). Suet is sold in handy square cakes that fit neatly into wire containers, making it easy to offer this treat to the birds. Suet feeders can be attached to a tree trunk or hung from a limb. They attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.
Many suet cakes are blended with peanuts, fruit, or seeds. Birds like these cakes, but so do squirrels. So you will have to keep the suet feeders out of the reach of these furry backyard animals (plain suet has the advantage of not being as attractive to squirrels and other animals).
What about Squirrels?
Squirrels can be a major impediment to backyard birding. Many people start feeding birds only to be foiled by squirrels, which show up and eat all the seed. But there are ways to outsmart the squirrels and save the seed for the birds.
The best way to keep squirrels off your feeder is to mount the feeder on a pole about 5 feet high. Put a stove pipe or dome-shaped baffle under the feeder, and place the pole at least 8 feet away from any spot a squirrel could jump from. This will keep not only squirrels off your feeders but also other small mammals, including mice, rats, and raccoons. If you hang the feeder from a wire, make sure the feeder has a baffle above it so the squirrels cannot climb down the wire and reach the feeder.
If you like the squirrels consider putting up feeders that are just for them. One of the popular feeders to use looks like a little chair with a post in front onto which you can slide an ear of corn; the squirrel sits in the chair and nibbles away at the corn. Another is a small box with a hinged lid in which you can place whole peanuts and corn kernels. The squirrels learn to open the box and take out food a few pieces at a time. Both of these feeders will provide a distraction for the squirrels and entertainment for you.
Every bird needs water
There are several species of birds that will come to the feeders to eat the seed but all birds need water to drink and to use for bathing. By providing a good birdbath, you can attract more species to your yard--and have fun watching your new feathered friends play in the water.
The birdbath can be placed on the ground or on a pedestal, or it can be attached to a deck. The key is to make sure there are different depths of water in the bath for birds of different sizes. You can create this by placing several flat stones in the bath. Some water should be only a half inch deep for the smallest birds. Be sure to provide fresh water year-round and change it at least every 2-3 days. You will also want to use a birdbath heater during the winter months to keep ice from forming on your birdbath. Use a dripper in the summer months; the sound will attract birds to the water.
Tools for Bird-watching
Attracting birds is just the first step to enjoying them. Once you have the birds in your yard, you can begin the fun of learning their names and watching their behavior, which can be quite entertaining.
To follow the show and see the birds up close; they are an essential tool of the hobby. For a little more than $100, you can get a pair of binoculars that will give you years of beautiful views of the birds at your feeders and out in the wild.
A Bird Field Guide
To help you identify and learn about the birds that are visiting your yard. The field guide should have a picture all of the birds that you are likely to see at your feeders.
Once you are able to identify some of your feeder birds, keep a nature journal of what you see. Which birds visit each day? How do they interact? What do they eat? And who is the first to visit in the morning or the last to feed in the evening? All of these observations will only increase the rewards and pleasure you get from your feeders.
You can start your new hobby at any time… Why not now? You can put up your feeding station in any season and keep feeding the birds all year round. You will soon find that backyard birding is not only a learning experience but is also relaxing and fun.