Backyard Birding Made Easy

backyard birding 1
Bird watching is full of surprises. Did you realize that chickadees are as fond of peanut butter as your four-year-old… and as prone to squabbling over it as toddlers are? Have you ever watched a cardinal feed a choice seed to his mate?  Listened to the joyous song of a sparrow after a rainstorm?

Backyard birds easily adapt to human activity, so it’s easy to entice them to your garden. Cardinals, goldfinches, house sparrows, blue jays, and doves are year-round… and migrating birds such as hummingbirds, robins, indigo buntings, grosbeaks, and bluebirds are delightful seasonal visitors.

Planting a garden gives us the opportunity to attract birds and butterflies. Luckily for gardeners, the very things we love best are the main attraction. These beautiful creatures not only find food in our gardens, but provide us with a valuable service; pollinating and helping produce the next generation of flowers.

Find a vantage point where you can see the whole front yard or backyard at once, and ask yourself a few questions. Are there places for birds to hide from predators? Can they shelter from cold, wind and rain? Is there food and water readily available? Plants which provide shade, shelter and food include firs, hollies, hemlocks, junipers, spruces, pines, oaks, dogwoods, rhododendrons and azaleas, roses, and berry bushes such as blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. These provide varying types of shelter including nesting sites and nighttime roosting places. Local garden centers can help you pick out the perfect plantings.

"If squirrels are a problem, add some powdered cayenne pepper to the birdseed; the birds can’t taste it, but squirrels hate it!"

Bird feeders help supplement your native plantings. Three basic foods: small millet seeds, sunflower seeds, and suet, plus insects and worms, will satisfy every bird likely to visit your back yard. Treats such as dried fruit and peanuts may help attract repeat visitors. If squirrels are a problem, add some powdered cayenne pepper to the birdseed; the birds can’t taste it, but squirrels hate it! Often, a feeder supplied with cracked corn will help keep the squirrels, crows, and other critters away from your songbird feeders, and you’ll have the enjoyment of watching them, too.

Be careful not to set up your feathered friends for ambush by predators. Position feeders at least five feet off the ground, under large trees or near shrubs or hedges. Keep birdbaths and feeders a safe distance from shrubs or bushy plants, which are favorite cat hideouts.

Don’t forget to provide water. A birdbath with pebbles at one end will provide both deep and shallow wading areas. A clay plant saucer placed in a partly shaded area, filled with river stones, gravel and a little water makes a perfect watering station for butterflies.

backyard birding 2Hummingbird feeders will help attract these flying jewels to your garden, but remember that brightly colored flowers and insects are an important part of their diet. Hummingbirds prefer tube-like blossoms such as petunias, trumpet flowers, honeysuckle and columbine, and are particularly attracted to red and blue. Butterflies are attracted to three basic flower shapes: daisy-types, small flower spikes, and flat or round-topped clusters. They also show a strong preference for purple and yellow. Don’t hesitate to add a colorful piece of sculpture, a garden flag, or gazing ball to help bring their attention to your garden. You’ll find a nice selection of feeders and garden décor at the Mast General Store. While there, don’t forget to check out the outfitters, mercantile department, and all those old-fashioned candies!

Fill your backyard with the sights and sounds of birds and butterflies this year. Turning your back yard into a haven where birds nest, raise their families and seek shelter takes a bit of planning, but is well worth it. You’ll soon find that it’s become a sanctuary for you, too.