The other day I noticed that we did not have our usual crowd of birds hanging around our feeder. We checked and the seed had gotten hard and was no longer as appetizing as it should have been so the old seed got dumped and the feeder got a good cleaning. Old, moldy bird seed can actually make our feathered friends sick. Cleaning the bird feeder and the bird bath may be two tasks that can slip our minds this time of the year but the feeder should be cleaned at least once a month. I clean my bird bath every couple of days in the summer. . . to keep the water fresh and to make sure mosquitos don’t use the bath as a breeding ground. During the winter I also give it a regular cleaning and fresh water. If you have a problem with the water freezing in your birdbath, there are little devices than can be put into your baths to keep the water from freezing. One of the most charming garden sights is the birds splashing around in the bird bath. Sometimes during the summer months I will run the sprinkler just for them and they will come running to bathe in the water that collects in the driveway. Not very water wise but a real pleasure for the birds.
Attracting birds to your garden is not difficult. Simply look at your yard as if you were a bird. They are seeking water, food, shelter, and places to build nests to raise their babies. They like to perch on branches; they like places to hide from predators. Choose plants that provide a variety of food; include plants that have seeds, nuts, berries, and fruit. Many native plants can be especially attractive to birds. Birds love the seeds in coneflowers so when the flowers die back leave the seed heads for the birds to munch on. Last summer we were gardening in Jacksonville’s Pocket Park. A little goldfinch was snacking on the seed heads of the yellow coneflowers, completely oblivious to all the activity around him as he enjoyed the treat. Supplement your plants with feeders with various kinds of birdseed. There is a style of feeder for every bird and every human taste. One trick to keeping your feeder stocked for the birds is to figure out how to keep the squirrels away. We have a squirrel baffle that keeps them from climbing the pole. I have seen enterprising squirrels leap from far distances to get to the seed. We have tried hot pepper in the seed which I read is a delicacy for the birds. It was supposed to help keep the squirrels at bay but they went right on eating. So we purchased a special feeder that gives the squirrels a little jolt. We no longer have a squirrel problem. Most birds will eat black oil sunflower seeds. I buy the kind that is the hearts only with the husks removed. It tends to make less of a mess under your feeder. Birds love suet which can be homemade or purchased in just about any hardware, big box, or pet store.
Just as there are a multitude of bird feeders on the market, the gardener can purchase just about any kind of bird bath. Cleanliness again is the watch word for both of these products.
Obviously, birds need shelter from predators as well as to nest. The best way to provide this is to have a variety of shrubs of all sizes and shapes–both deciduous and evergreen–in your landscape. But well-placed bird houses are also important, especially to attract bluebirds to your yard. Houses specially made for bluebirds are easy to find. Watching a pair of bluebirds line a blue bird house is one of the nicest experiences you can have in the garden. The bluebirds in the Jacksonville Pocket Park raised two sets of babies right in the middle of an urban park.
It goes without saying that to have birds you must be really careful with chemicals. Harsh chemicals–pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and birds are not a good combination. Be prepared to accept less than perfect to make sure your birds stay healthy.
Mulch also makes your yard more inviting to the birds. Not only can they use some mulch material like pinestraw for their nests, mulch brings better soil and, often, earthworms, a treat for the birds. I love to watch the birds scratch around the mulch looking for a tidbit.
As far as predators, some things may be out of control (however, providing lots of good shelter is vital to help keep our birds safe). However, if you have cats consider keeping them indoors or placing your feeder so it does not become a feeding station for your cats. I just read a great idea–put something with thorns under your feeders. So if the seed spills and the birds like to gather to eat the spilled seeds, the thorns will help keep the cats away. We have lots of stray cats in our neighborhood. I have even seen one try to jump in the feeder to catch a bird. That definitely ranks as one of my husband’s top pet peeves.
With a little effort and some planning your yard can be haven for birds of many sizes and colors and will only make your garden a more delightful place for you and the birds.