By M. Keith Hudson, Wildlife Biologist
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that backyard birding or watching birds around the home is the most common form of bird-watching. Many people also feed and attract birds around their homes. If you are one of these backyard birders or would like to be, here are a few practical Do’s and Don’ts for feeding and attracting birds to your yard.
DO HAVE A PLAN: Plan the landscaping and maintenance of your yard with birds in mind. Generally speaking, birds need food, water and cover. A manicured, weed-free yard may be aesthetically pleasing, but it can be a sterile, uninviting place for birds. Plan to leave a section of your yard a little “rough around the edges.” Usually, the greater the diversity of plants in your yard, the greater the diversity and amount of birds you will attract.
DO PROVIDE FOOD: Birdfeeders, suet feeders, and feeders for hummingbirds are well-known for their ability to attract birds. Many feeders can be purchased inexpensively at local home improvement stores or you can always build your own. A quick Internet search on “bird feeder plans” will reveal many styles, types and choices of feeders. You can also just sprinkle bird seed on the ground – the birds don"t care. You should always select seeds and grains that are packaged specifically as birdseed that are free of chemicals. Clean feeders periodically by removing all old and possibly rotting food, and use a weak solution of household bleach. After the bleach has evaporated, you can restore and replenish the feeder.
DO PROVIDE WATER: Bird baths, waterers, and misters are great ways to attract songbirds – particularly in the hot summertime. With a little effort and expense, small landscaping pools can also be added. However, all must be kept clean and be regularly replenished with fresh water.
Consider making a “water tree” this summer. Take a rigid piece of PVC pipe and rig one end so it can be attached to a water hose. Run the stiff pipe up a tree beside the trunk to the treetop, and turn on the water. As the water drips and falls through the foliage, hundreds of cool, wet places are created. Cedar trees are ideal. To attract birds this hot summer, just make them a water tree!
DO LANDSCAPE WITH NATIVE, FOOD-BEARING PLANTS: In addition to providing food in artificial bird feeders, plant native vegetation to provide food and cover for birds. Most native trees and shrubs are hardier than ornamental plants and often just as beautiful. The fruits and seeds they provide are usually more beneficial to birds and other wildlife. Remember, the trees and shrubs you plant today may still be around years from now, providing food and cover.
DO PROVIDE COVER: Bird houses, martin houses, nesting boxes, and many other types of artificial structures provide shelter, cover and nesting habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. These are especially valuable in urban settings. However, when possible, consider natural cover such as thick shrubs and bushes. Creating brush piles and log piles will create habitat for wrens and other small cavity-nesting birds.
DO LEAVE DEAD TREES AND SNAGS WHERE PRACTICAL: These provide food for woodpeckers and habitat for a wide variety of cavity-nesting birds.
DO BUY A HUNTING OR WILDLIFE HERITAGE LICENSE, AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE ALABAMA NONGAME WILDLIFE PROGRAM: Consider purchasing a hunting license or Alabama Wildlife Heritage License whether or not you hunt or fish, and contribute what you can to the Alabama Nongame Wildlife Program. Some of the revenue from these sources goes for research, education and management of song birds. You can easily purchase a license online.
Here are a few Don’ts to be considered when attempting to attract birds.
DON’T OVERUSE CHEMICALS: Be careful with chemicals around your yard. Insecticides and herbicides are designed to be lethal. They can also be deadly to birds and wildlife you do not intend to harm. Use them wisely and sparingly. Pesticides also can kill insects and grubs that are actually providing a food source for the very birds you are trying to attract. Generally, more chemicals results in less birds.
DON’T MAKE IT EASY FOR CATS: Cats are very efficient predators, and studies show that many migratory songbirds are killed each year by housecats. Avoid placing feeders, bird houses and waterers in places that make it easy for cats to ambush the songbirds you are trying to attract. The efforts you make to attract birds may do more harm than good by creating a “cat feeder” instead of a bird feeder. Another problem is the feral, rural and free-ranging cat. Help limit feral and unwanted cats by having your cat spayed or neutered.
DON’T ENCOURAGE BIRDS NEAR WINDOWS: Published estimates of the annual mortality to birds in the United States from collision with windows range from 100 million to 1 billion. One study found that bird-window collisions were the second largest human source of bird mortality on earth. Planting trees close to windows, adding awnings, screens, or anything that makes a reflecting window look less like the sky can reduce these fatalities. Though placing your bird feeder near a window may make them easier to see and enjoy, this location may actually cause mortality to some of the birds you are trying to attract.
Just following these few simple Do’s and Don’ts will go a long way in making your backyard an inviting and attractive place for birds and will provide many hours of enjoyable bird watching.