With a little effort, you can build a sophisticated bird paradise that even your most awkward feathered friend will love.
If you spend time at home, you will find ways to bring nature to you. Bird watching in the back yard is a fun way to experience your local ecosystem up close.
It takes more than a bird feeder to lure a colorful variety of songbirds into your garden. Imagine your automatic feeder as a fast food snack in an unsafe area: the birds stop eating but don't stay long. They want to return to their cozy nest in an exclusive deciduous tree community, where they can get fancier food anyway.
If you want to see more than just the backs of birds at a millet buffet, you have to offer them the luxury they expect.
Create a living space
Birds prefer townhouses to one-story ranch houses. They need perches to clean, thickets to hide, branches to argue with, spacious rooms to show off and finally a tree hollow in which they can nest and paint a beautiful robin egg blue in their nursery.
Give them privacy by planting leafy walls. Native shrubs, small trees and even tall grass and shrubs offer the versatility they need for a quick escape.
Create a blanket of tall deciduous and evergreen trees on the back of your property and plant small undergrowth trees between them and your house. Selectively trim the lower limbs of shrubs and small trees so that you can easily see squatting birds from your window. You will appreciate the perch and camera angle.
Breed your own bird feed
Money doesn't grow on trees, but conveniently with bird feed! It also grows on shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals and everything else that is qualified as a plant.
However, to breed the seeds that your local bird species prefer, choose the native plants they would otherwise find in the wild. Native plants vary by region, but some great options are coneflower, ceiling flower, beautyberry, asters and sunflowers.
Attract hummingbirds with nectar-filled trumpet honeysuckle and cardinal flowers. Native oak, hollies, dogwood, sumac, cedar and spruce offer nuts and berries and protection.
Stage your bird house
Research the birds you want to attract and give them the house that suits their needs. For example, bluebirds like their nesting boxes outdoors, while chickadees cover thick leaves.
Whatever bird you want to attract, keep this nesting box away from human noise and activity so you never have to experience the heartbreaking sight of abandoned eggs in an empty nest. If possible, keep your cat indoors. Otherwise, you may not only find birds in your garden, but also on your doorstep.
If the birds have not yet moved in, be patient. Sometimes your bird house only needs a little bit of lichen, moss, or wear and tear to make it more attractive.
Turn a bird bath into a hot tub
If your bird bath is emptier than a swimming pool in January, there may be a reason. The ideal bird bath does not look what you would expect – it is right on the floor in a shady room with nearby shrubs.
Add some gravel to the pool so the birds can find their stand, and even add a few stones outside to serve as steps. If possible, add a small pump or fountain. This makes your bird bath a miniature water feature, and the circulation keeps the water clean and helps the birds cool off on hot days.
Leave leaf litter
If you are looking for an excuse to get out of gardening, you will be pleased to know that you must keep this accumulation of dead leaves and small branches on the bottom of your garden. Birds have everything they could ever want – beetles and other small animals to nibble on, materials to nest and even a hiding place from predators.
If things look messy, just break off the larger branches by hand or with an anvil cutter and spread everything evenly. Everyone loves free mulch.
Invest in your feeder
Instead of spending money on multiple feeders that you have to replace year after year, invest in a feeder that is made from high quality materials, has a tight-fitting lid, and flows off easily. Better yet, buy a sturdy pole and a squirrel baffle.
Even the best feeder needs to be serviced. Therefore, clean it thoroughly every year and break open blocked holes so that no moisture accumulates. Trust me on this point – cleaning a maggot-infested feeder is something nobody should experience.
Originally published June 2017