The best backyard company, aside from our friends and family, is an interesting array of native birds. They play the roles of backyard entertainers, decorators, and even pest control, making them the natural ally of the avid gardener! If we want to keep their company, it’s our responsibility to be good hosts and provide adequate food sources, water, and shelter to meet their needs.
CREATING SANCTUARY FOR FEATHERED FRIENDS
Birds are practical animals, and while it’s common for birds to use bright colors and patterns to impress a mate, their accommodations demand a different strategy.
Encouraging Nesting – Even the most hardened landscaper softens at the sound of peeps coming from a bird’s nest. We might be tempted to offer birds a palatial, intricately painted home to lay their eggs, but these are precisely the attention-grabbers a protective mother bird is likely to avoid. Instead, offer nesting platforms, or plant shrubbery and deciduous trees with dense branch systems.
Provide Safety – For those of you who enjoy a stylish birdhouse, make sure to mount on a metal poles with smooth surface. These are tricky for egg thieves to climb. Use poles at least 10’ off the ground to mount bird shelters. Otherwise, that innocent birdhouse in a tree will instead look a little more like a takeout box to a predator.
Offer Shelter – We’re not the only ones who need a break from our classic Midwestern winters! Bird boxes should have large entry holes, which are safer for birds, with an interior roosting platform much higher up in the structure than the entry hole. This keeps warm air inside and prevents birds from sleeping in the way of the cold air.
Provide a Winter Water Source – Although the ground is covered in snow, finding water in the winter can be more difficult than you think. Natural water sources and water in bird baths are bound to freeze over during the winter. Luckily, items such as water wigglers, which agitate the water so that it doesn’t freeze, are a solution to this problem. Bird bath de-icers, which contain heating elements to keep the temperature of the water above freezing, are another great option.
Deter Food Thieves – The last thing you want when setting out feed for the birds, is for it to be stolen by other critters before the birds even have a chance! You can deter squirrels and other large predators from stealing feed using a Squirrel Baffle, a dome placed just above the feeder that tips over at the slightest touch. A Brome Squirrel Buster, Droll Yankee Dipper, or Roamwild PestOff Bird Feeder are other great options, also, all designed to collapse perches or close access to the feed at the weight of the squirrel.
FEEDING WILD BIRDS
When it comes to feeding wild birds, different birds have starkly different nutritional needs, and their nutritional requirements can change according to the season. The most common feeds are:
- Suet: Another name for ‘beef fat’, suet should be offered only in cold months. It is a calorie-dense food that safely keeps birds fed when the temperatures drop. We offer a wide range of flavored suet to entice wild birds. If you’re looking to create your own as a winter project you can make suet cakes or rolls by combining melted suet with natural peanut butter and corn meal. The mixture can be molded into patties or rolls and hung in mesh bags for birds to feast on.
- Nectar solution: To attract hummingbirds, fill hummingbird feeders with a nectar filled with vitamins and minerals. You can try making your own solution at home using 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. Consider using a red feeder, which is a color hummingbirds just can’t resist.
- Cracked corn: Crows, doves, jays, and sparrows see cracked corn as a major treat! For those who enjoy watching the squirrels as much as the birds, you can leave out this ear corn.
- “Nyjer” or thistle seeds: These seeds are staples for finches, buntings, and pine siskins. We sell both thistle and thistle feeders to attract birds who love to munch on these tiny seeds.
- White Proso Millet – Millet will attract cardinals, doves, sparrows, quails, and other ground-feeders. We offer seed mixes that include millet to attract a wider variety of backyard birds.
- Peanuts: While peanuts should be offered only sparingly, as they can quickly grow rancid, they are beloved by jays, chickadees, titmice, and crows. Keep them contained in this clever peanut wreath.
- Sunflower seeds: Black oil sunflower seeds have thinner shells than striped sunflower seeds, and are the preferred variety for feeding almost any bird species.
PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING BIRDS
To attract Midwestern birds naturally, we can grow plants that coax them in with fragrant flowers, ripe fruits, and enticing hiding spots.
The best trees are mulberries, serviceberries, flowering dogwood, crabapple, oak, spruce, and red cedar.
The best shrubs are winterberry, staghorn sumac, northern bayberry, dogwoods, arrowwood, spicebush, honeysuckle, and cranberry bush.
The best flowers are bee balm, black-eyed Susan, flowering tobacco, purple coneflowers, sunflowers, milkweed, cosmos, and blanket flowers. Each of these flowers are specifically attractive for insect-eating birds, who prey on the insects that land on blooms, so you can enjoy not just the winged wonders, but pest-free plants, too!
Making a little effort to attract local bird species pays off as wild birds reward us by keeping our gardens free from pests, transforming our yards into theatres for their winged antics, and treating our ears are to the most beautiful natural music!