A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Attracting Birds

When I was growing up, I knew quite a bit about birds.  They eat birdseed and drink water from the birdbath.  I could identify quite a few of them...even knew some of their bird calls.  Maybe I didn't know as much as I thought I did, but I did like to walk around and know what kind of bird I was looking at.

Since I've moved here, the birds that I've seen most often are crows (I hear their "cawing" all the time) and blue jays (their cries of "thief" ring through the neighborhood).  I've seen a couple of robins, some mallard ducks on the creek, and first thing in the morning there's occasionally a great blue heron around the bend.  Sometimes I'll hear the short "cheep" of a cardinal or the call of another bird that I don't recognize. But the only ones I've actually seen in the yard are crows, blue jays, and a rare robin.  This suggests to me that my yard is in an unhealthy state.  If those wildflowers and thorny plants created a suitable environment for the birds, I'd see more of them.

But there's evidence around the yard that this sorry state hasn't always been the case.  I found a suet feeder screwed to a tree:

Up to the left of the suet feeder, in the same tree, is an abandoned nest:

Two of the trees in the yard are riddled with large, round woodpecker holes.  I've heard a woodpecker hammering away while I was out in the yard, but couldn't spot the bird.  In any case, it's good to know that there are other birds around and that my backyard could be a good habitat to attract those birds, with the right modifications.

Attracting lots of birds comes down to what I plant, in my garden and in the wildflower patches.  I recently read a blog post (linked below) titled "Native Birds Like Native Plants".  Obvious, isn't it?  But what wasn't obvious to me was the variety of foods that different birds eat.  Crows and bluejays are omnivores...they eat insects and plants.  Well, crows seem to eat just about anything.  But they're the more generalized feeders, so they can survive in a relatively unhealthy habitat like my backyard (it hurts a little bit to write that!).  If I want to attract specialized feeders, I need to provide (and this is straight from that blog post):

- Berries and fleshy fruits to attract cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, and tanagers.
- Seed-producing plants to attract finches, cardinals, sparrows, goldfinches, pigeons, and doves.
- Insect-attracting plants to attract warblers, swallows, wrens, woodpeckers, titmouse, eastern phoebe, bluebird, American robin, brown thrasher, vireos, and the whip-poor-will.
- Nectar-producing plants to attract hummingbirds.

And with more birds in the yard, maybe I'll attract a few raptors such as my red-tailed hawk friends that nest a few miles away at Cornell University.  But the bottom line is that I have to be smart about what I choose to plant, so that I can draw a wide variety of birds back to my own little habitat in the backyard.  I hope that between the book that I bought at the nursery this weekend and some research on the web, I can come up with a plan for my yard that will have it bustling with new winged friends for years to come.

Native Birds Like Native Plants

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