Attracting Birds to Your Property
Making a variety of habitats available will ensure that diverse bird species
will add your property to their feeding routes or perhaps even nest in your
yard. An article in the Eaglestar.net Land and Property Review, Volume 1, Issue 5 describes the components of habitat that are
necessary for wildlife survival and how to include those components on your
property. If you wish to review this article, you can find it at
Animals (humans included!) require food, water, shelter, and space in order to live. The need for food and water are obvious. Shelter provides both a place to raise young and protection from predators or the elements. If you provide these things in ways birds can easily use them, you will attract both a diversity and abundance of bird species. The type and amount of space available tend to dictate competitive interactions among animals. Non-predatory birds get along pretty well at the feeder; making sure there is enough vertical space (trees and shrubs) nearby for resting and roosting is usually all that is required.
Water should be made available in bird baths or shallow tubs or dishes. Keep the level relatively low, no higher than a couple of inches, so that small birds can easily bathe. Change the water at least every three days to keep it clean and free of algae, mosquitoes and parasites. Placing the water container on an elevated surface, such as a tree stump or table, or hanging it from a tree will allow the birds to see approaching predators. Try to keep the water shaded, if possible. If your state allows it, a graywater system is a great way to re-use water for the benefit of plants and birds alike. If you choose to do this, carefully consider what chemicals you put in the water (shampoo, soap, cleaning agents, etc.). You will have to switch to biodegradable versions of all these, which requires some careful label reading.
Food can be most easily provided by planting a variety of flowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs. Trees or shrubs that produce nuts (known as mast in the world of wildlife science) are great choices, as are plants that produce berries or other fruit. Any plant that attracts insects is a good choice, since many bird species feed primarily on insects. Include flowers that give nectar, which will attract both hummingbirds and insects that use these types of plants. Columbines and other buttercup family plants, snapdragons, and penstemon are both beautiful and functional in this regard. You can also supplement landscaped food sources with bird feeders. Many types of small birds will use finch feeders filled with seed. A suet feeder filled with suet cakes provides high-energy sustenance to birds of all shapes and sizes. Don't forget birds that prefer the ground, like quail. You can feed these types of birds by spreading some seed on the ground, or by using quail blocks or other blocked bird food.
Shelter is usually provided using both landscaping and birdhouses. Be aware that only bird species that nest in the natural holes in trees (appropriately called cavity nesters) will use birdhouses. Cavity-nesting species include bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and flycatchers; these types of birds are usually insectivorous (they eat insects). Other birds, such as jays, robins, and hummingbirds, prefer to build cup-shaped nests in trees or shrubs or under the eaves of buildings. Still other species like the junco conceal their nests on the ground, or simply lay their eggs on the ground without ever building a nest at all, as is the case with nighthawks. Thick ground plants, such as native bunch grasses, provide good cover for ground-nesters. Evergreens or thick shrubs provide good nesting habitat for cup-nesters, which can be supplemented with open-style nest boxes or platforms. If you install birdhouses for cavity-nesters, vary their heights between 5 and 8 feet from the ground. Different birds prefer to nest at different heights.
In many areas, loss of natural habitat due to human development is a huge problem for birds and other wildlife. Providing habitat in your yard helps to counteract this trend, and can provide hours of bird-watching enjoyment for your family and guests. For more information, visit the following websites:
USDA Forest Service booklet on cavity-nesters:
Birds of North America Online:
Article: Conservation and Ecology, Real Estate
Added: Thu May 15 2008
Last Modified: Sat Jul 05 2008