The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.
Every year billions of birds, representing nearly 300 species, migrate between North America and tropical regions to the south.
It may well be the riskiest activity they undertake in their lives. But you can assist them on this journey by creating an inviting, bird-friendly stopover site. As an added bonus, you’ll be helping dozens of resident birds to survive a tough winter and remain healthier during the rest of the year.
Our friends at the National Wildlife Federation offer these four proven ways to attract migratory and resident birds to your yard or garden.
1. Bubbles, Drips and Mists
It’s important to let the birds know that water is available, especially the fall migrants who’re just passing through. Moving water is particularly alluring to them. So the best way to “advertise” water availability is by using a fountain pump or a small drip hose.
Drippers, small fountains, bubblers and misters are very popular with our feathered friends. They’re also reasonably inexpensive — online and at most pet supply stores.
Alternatively, you can drape a garden hose over a tree branch located above a birdbath, and adjust the flow to a constant drip. (Make sure your birdbath is heated during the winter months to prevent ice formation.)
2. Prepare a “Smorgasbird”
Different birds eat different things, so you’ll want to offer a variety of food types. Native plants that provide seeds, berries and insects are the best and most natural way to offer food for wild birds. But you can supplement that with feeders.
Here are some suggestions:
• Black-oil sunflower seeds are the best all-around food and are attractive to many bird species. Cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, and sparrows all love them. They’re rich in oil, and high in protein and fat content. Plus the tiny size and thin hulls are easy for small birds to crack. And if you’re new to backyard birding, black-oil sunflower seeds are a great place to start!
• Unshelled peanuts are great for larger birds with heavy bills, such as woodpeckers and jays. They’re loaded with protein and fat, which makes them especially attractive as winter approaches. A common way to offer unshelled peanuts it to string them on a wire or string, and hang them from a tree limb.
• Thistle (or Niger) seed is the best way to attract goldfinches and their brightly colored cousins. It’s also very expensive, as it’s imported from Africa and Asia. These tiny black seeds are high in protein and fat, and require specialized (finch) feeders that release only one seed at a time. (The advantage to the finch feeder is it will not attract squirrels or larger competitive birds, such as starlings.)
• Seed mixes are popular for beginners because they attract many different types of birds. There are drawbacks, however. They can be messy, as birds will pick over unwanted seeds and toss them away.
In addition, most commercial mixes contain unappealing and inexpensive fillers such as milo, buckwheat, rice, oats or wheat. Avoid buying mixes with a reddish hue, which indicates a high content of milo. Instead, select mixes with a pale yellow color (indicating more corn content) or those containing adequate amounts of sunflower seeds
• Cracked corn attracts small ground-feeding birds. Bear in mind, however, that it can quickly rot when wet. It also tends to attract squirrels, pigeons and blackbirds. Whole corn kernels, fresh or dried, are attractive to larger birds such as pheasants, ducks and geese.
• Suet is basically a cake of animal fat and is a healthy source of protein for birds, especially in the winter months. When food is scarce, suet provides a lifeline for many birds in your yard. Suet is often mixed with some seeds and served through suet cages.
Important Note: Avoid offering suet in the summer when outdoor temperatures are warm enough to turn it rancid, or soft enough to mat birds’ feathers. This can result in exposure and even death to some birds.
3. Ground Feeders
There are a large number of bird species that stay on the ground to feed and seldom, if ever, land on feeders. You’ll see them gobbling up seeds that have fallen from the feeders, or scratching around in leaf litter.
Ground-feeding birds of Wyoming include horned larks, meadowlarks and buntings. By sprinkling extra seed under bushes, a patio table or a deck, you’ll provide them with an appropriately sheltered feeding area.
Since leaf litter is a natural habitat for many insects, bug- and grub-eating birds thrive on it. Be sure to keep a few piles or mats of leaf litter available for the towhees and thrashers who are sure to visit your backyard habitat.
4. Create a Safe Haven
Birds approaching a feeder are ever-mindful of safety. They’ll typically sit in a nearby bush or other “staging area” before flying out to the food. They’ll then return immediately to the relative protection of shrubbery or trees.
You can make it easy for them (and attract more birds) by placing your feeding areas close to some safety coverage, such as shrubbery. However, nearby vegetation can also provide a hiding place for neighborhood cats, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for them, as well.
A Word About Droppings
An excessive amount of bird droppings carry the potential for disease, so make sure your feeders are located away from walking areas, where the droppings won’t present a problem. Also, be sure to sweep around the feeder frequently to keep it clean of waste food and droppings.
Soap and water are among the best means of disease prevention. Regular cleaning of the feeding area and feeder will help limit your exposure (as well as the birds’) to any disease pathogens.
Here are some additional tips for keeping bird feeders clean year-round:
The University of Wyoming Extension Service has prepared a guide to Wyoming bird feeding, which includes information about unique bird foods, various types of feeders, water sources, and how to discourage pests and predators. To download a free copy, click here.