Recently while shopping at a garden center, I overheard a salesman suggest to his customer that she add a birdhouse to her purchases, which included insecticides, sprays, and dust. “I’m interested in flowers, not birds,” she snapped back.
She didn’t realize that if just one family of birds came to live in her garden, she wouldn’t need to spend so much time and effort on insect control. And she didn’t know either what a couple of bird feeding stations would do to make her picture window come alive.
Each spring for twenty years or more we have watched a family of bossy wrens build a nest behind a red shutter on our house. They use the four leaf-clover cutouts in the shutter as an entrance!
Another wren family occupies a little brown birdhouse we nailed outside our screened porch. Both families make a furious uproar if anyone comes near. We love their chatter and comic bustling about, but more appealing is the fact that one small wren feeds her babies about 500 assorted insects and caterpillars each day.
Long ago a robin family preempted the fanlight over our colonial doorway. Every year they build a nest there and raise as many as three broods in it. Robins are meat eaters, and in the course of a season thousands of slugs, cutworms, and other unwanted creatures find their way down small gaping throats.
Working on the night shift, owls are very busy birds. Although we can’t see them, we know they have reduced the rodent population here. Cuckoos, more often heard than seen, relish caterpillars and webworms in enormous quantities. One scientist counted 250 tent caterpillars and 217 fall webworms in the stomach of a departed cuckoo.
The flicker is a wary bird with an attractive whistle. Whenever we catch the rash of his colorful wings, we are happy to know he’s on his way to dine on ants. If he’s hungry, he can account for more than 5,000 daily. There is one glutton, the brown thrasher, understandably a quiet type, who eats more than 6,000 insects each day.
All birds are fascinating, once you get to know them. Even those people who don’t care much for birds admire colorful scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles. Both are hearty insect eaters. And the lovely little hummingbird is just as apt to be after an insect as nectar when it dips into the heart of a flower.
To make things more interesting, he flies out backward—the only bird that can do so. Nuthatches are the only ones who can walk down a tree. Even a woodpecker can only walk up. But woodpeckers have their charm, with their flashing topknots and insistent tap-tap.
They wage war, year-round, on wood boring larvae and tree insects and – equally important – on their eggs in sacs, cocoons, or nests dormant under bark or curled leaves.
But regardless of WHY you like birds, it’s good, sound gardening sense to attract them to your home.
By attract, I mean deliberately set out to coax them to come live with you. The requirements are few and simple. Make your home conditions right and the rest will follow. This is true.
A few species will discover you and then you will be continuously surprised at the wide assortment of new customers who will join your first arrivals. Before you know it, you will have a “bird sanctuary.” Now, let’s take a look at what these necessary conditions are:
Assure Them Of Safety
Did you ever notice how a domestic hen eats? She pecks on and on, never raising her head to look around. Not so wild birds. They seldom peck more than once without looking carefully in all directions.
Like all wild creatures, they know that safety is attained only through eternal vigilance. Next to food and water, a sense of security is, perhaps, the most important thing to most birds.
If your property does not have trees, vines, or shrubs you will have no birds. They look for them as shelter from enemies as well as from strong winds and rain, cold and heat. However, they will not live in gardens so dark and overgrown they cannot easily escape from their enemies. Incidentally, it is said by some authorities that a cat will kill as many as fifty songbirds a year.
Give Them Water
Birds come by their thirst honestly: their diet requires water, and it is important because of their high body temperatures. Most amateur bird fanciers do not provide sufficient water, and therefore birds seek a more adequate supply elsewhere. A robin checks water resources before he chooses a nesting place and a wife to go with it.
Very simple accommodations will suffice: A trickle from a tap, a small fountain, a fish pond, or a birdbath—all with clean water and in a protected location. Some birds take dust baths but most of them prefer to wash in shallow water.
In the winter, warm water should be provided once a day. Adding a little glycerine will delay freezing, and the birds seem to accept it readily.
Provide Nesting Sites
Any homeowner can attract birds quickly with an assortment of well-protected birdhouses of the right specifications. The entrance hole must be exactly the right size for each species and at the right height on the birdhouse to prevent enemies from entering.
Birds do not like to nest too close to their kind, so space the houses. The exception is the beautiful purple martin who loves a one-room apartment in a multiple dwelling teeming with friends.
Wrens, bluebirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches welcome birdhouses. Robins, phoebes, and swallows build their nests if you provide a sheltered shelf or a thickly ivied wall. Other birds like to live near people, preferably under the eaves of a house or on the rafters of an open shed, as is the case with barn swallows.
During months when food is scarce, any shrub, tree, or vine which yields nuts, fruits, berries, cones, or seeds, is an excellent source of natural food. Of course, you want birds to eat insects but you must hold their interest in your garden with an additional food supply. Incidentally, most birds seldom disturb garden fruits if they have enough water to slake their thirst.
Consider This Plants If You Plan To Change Garden
If you plan to change your garden, here are some plants to keep in mind. They afford food, shelter, and possible nesting sites:
- Wild Grape
- Virginia creeper
- Japanese quince
- Indian currant
- Species Roses
- Black alder
- White ash
- Box elder
- Black locust
- Mountain ash
- Wild cherries
- Oriental cherries
For Bird Feeding
Feed and protect in winter. A bird deserted in winter will find other quarters. So, if you plan to have a year-round company this is what you must do:
- Locate feeding stations near the house so snow shoveling to reach it is kept at a minimum.
- Have more than one feeding station. Elaborate construction is not essential. A box or board will do. Place the same kind of food on each station. It will give the more timid birds a chance to eat in peace.
The birds may change stations, like children trading toys, but at least two sources of food seem to be essential. Supplement the stations by hanging out grapefruit “baskets” containing kitchen grease, suet, diced fresh apples, nuts, peanuts, or other tempting tidbits.
- Locate the feeding stations near a window. Watching them is half the fun and then you can also watch for marauders.
- Try to put the stations close to sturdy shrubs, trees, or another protective cover. Birds do not like to eat in too exposed places. Some prefer to grab a bite and fly with it to a perch to eat.
Not all birds eat at feeders, many prefer the ground. However, you needn’t do the scattering, towhees and other untidy eaters will do it for you. Doves, cardinals, and other ground-pecking birds will clean up after them.
If possible, the ground-feeding area should be soil or sand rather than pavement. All birds require sand in their diet, so use sharp, clean builder’s sand. You need it for your garden anyway.
The important thing is, if you want to enjoy the sight and sound of birds as well as benefit from their craving for insects, let them know you will not fail them.
44659 by Barbara Black