Wild birds need our help more and more all the time. They are challenged to find food, nesting spots, and shelters in habitats that are growing increasingly smaller. Here are just a few things you can do to help the birds in your backyard!
Keep your yard pesticide-free
If you do nothing else for wild birds, at least try to do this. Some pesticides are not only harmful when ingested by birds, but they also kill off the insects and bugs that birds eat. Research natural ways to control weeds on walks or harmful insects in the garden. Picking harmful bugs from vegetable plants and flowers often works fine, and there are non-toxic sprays that can be used. And there are many natural weed killers, such as a salt and vinegar solution, boiling water, laying newspapers over them or using a propane weed torch. And don’t forget that weeds are often an important food source for birds, who dine on the seeds. Having a section of your yard grow wild will encourage lots more birds to visit.
Provide birds with native plantings
Native plants, trees and shrubs grow better in your yard than non-native plants and also provide food and shelter for birds. Choose varieties that bear seeds, fruits, berries or nuts. Non-native plants may bear berries or fruits, but often they are not the kinds of foods that your local birds are used to, or will eat. Again, consider leaving a section of your yard wild. Birds thrive on the seeds of wild-flowers and grasses in fall and winter. Your local nursery will be able to give you expert advice on which native plants will grow best in your area and be most beneficial to the birds. And sometimes, it’s not what you add, it’s what you don’t take away! Standing dead trees (if they don’t present a hazard) are important to a wide variety of birds. Woodpeckers and other birds feast on the insects and insect eggs in the dead wood. Chickadees, bluebirds, nuthatches, titmice and even little flying squirrels all depend on old woodpecker holes in dead trees for nesting and shelter. And a brush pile in the corner of your yard offers a shelter for birds in bad weather and provides a hiding place when predators appear.
Keep your feeders and bird baths clean
A natural place to congregate, feeders and baths are places where close contact, droppings and contaminated food can spread many types of avian diseases. And mold can develop in feeders, causing respiratory problems in birds. Clean feeders and baths regularly, whenever they appear to need it. It’s nice to have a schedule, but sometimes the best way to tell when a feeders and baths need cleaning is regular observation. Have a spare, clean feeder on hand to swap in when you need to clean the one in use. That way, you won’t feel rushed to get the feeder cleaned immediately and chances are, you’ll do a better job when you can take your time.
Provide a variety of foods to nourish a variety of birds
Feeding black oil sunflower seeds is a great start and most birds like them. But suet is a great addition. All seed-eating birds, with the exception of goldfinches will like suet and it’s a very good food for birds to take back to their nestlings. And insect eating birds such as mockingbirds, bluebirds and catbirds will come to suet feeders. Also try mixes. Mixes containing millet, peanut bits, and cracked corn appeal to doves, juncos, sparrows, buntings and other birds. Fruits such as orange halves, apple halves, even pieces of banana can also be offered. Seed eating and insect eating birds will all love mealworms, either dried or live. A variety of foods will attract a larger variety of birds!
Share your love of birds with a neighbor, family member or child!
Sharing your interest in feeding and sheltering our wild birds could start a friend or child on a hobby that will last a lifetime. And it may give you a chance to trade stories and ideas on the best ways to help the birds. It’s true that as birds’ habitats decrease and become more and more fragmented, many species are having a difficult time finding nesting spots and adequate food sources. Anything we can do to help wild birds will go a long way toward ensuring their futures. So… spread the word!