According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, 20 percent of all Americans are birdwatchers. It takes only a field guide, a spotting scope with tripod or pair of binoculars to go birding. Many birders put feeders out in their backyards to help our feathered friends.
That's good news, because having a bird-friendly yard or garden has never been more important - almost 80 percent of wildlife habitat in the U.S. is privately owned, and an average of 2 million acres each year is converted to residential use.
If you've been wishing you could attract more birds to your yard, garden, or even balcony area, there are some things you can do to bring them around.
A good place to start is with a reliable food source in the form of native plants or trees, and one or more bird feeders. Planting native plants, shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts many species of birds and wildlife need to survive and thrive (native plants also require less watering). Black oil sunflower seeds are the best for attracting songbirds; stock a tubular feeder with it, and watch the birds flock in.
You can also plant shrubs like snowberry, twinberry or serviceberry that will provide fruit throughout the seasons. If your yard contains cone flower, let the seeds remain on the plant through the fall and winter to keep goldfinches around.
It can be difficult for birds to find water at certain times of the year, so providing a source of water also becomes important. If your budget allows, consider adding a fountain or other water feature to your yard or garden. Ponds, small streams, rain gardens and birdbaths are all helpful water sources for birds. The sound of moving water, including the noise generated by so-called garden bubblers seen at many home improvement stores, works wonders. Birds see and hear the water from great distances and many curious species may come to investigate.
Birds need shelter from the weather and places to hide from predators. Wooded areas, ground cover, a log pile, shrubs and roosting boxes are all examples of shelter your yard can provide. Some birds - like woodpeckers and chickadees - excavate cavities in tree trunks for nesting and roosting. Nest boxes offer these birds a place to raise their young, especially where natural cavities are hard to find. To provide both food and cover, select trees and plants that thrive here in the Pacific Northwest - dogwoods for partly-shaded areas, maples and ash for medium-spaces, and Douglas fir, Willamette Valley pine or an oak tree for more spacious yards. Also, include at least one species of thorny tree, such as hawthorn or raspberry, for nesting.
If you own a lot of property
If youre lucky enough to own forested property in the urban interface (the area where developed areas meet forestland), youll want your woodlands to have as diverse a forest structure as possible to provide better nesting opportunities for birds. Different tree species, tree heights and spacing are all important. A standing dead tree – as long as it doesnt pose a safety hazard to people – will be a haven for cavity nesters like woodpeckers. Remember to control invasive species on your property, and whenever possible, use a native grass mix alongside any road projects.
For urban dwellers, reducing or eliminating the amount of lawn in your yard or garden is another positive step you can take to enhance the ecosystem values your landscape provides. Also, avoid spraying pesticides, and resist the urge to have a totally manicured garden. Try leaving some areas on your property "wild," where grass and native, non-invasive weeds can grow undisturbed. As the colder months of winter approach, remember to add a suet feeder to attract woodpeckers, nuthatches and other fat-loving birds.
If you follow most of the tips here you'll be well on your way to making your yard eligible for "Certified Wildlife Habitat" by the National Wildlife Federation (N.W.F.).
Finally, attracting birds is a great way to introduce young people to nature - and, it's something the whole family can share and enjoy. Enlist your kids or your spouse to help you make your yard or garden more bird-friendly. With a little time and energy, you may all find yourselves harvesting a great return on your investment.
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Cynthia Orlando has a degree in forest management, and is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.