March 7, 2017 > DonÕt wing it when attracting wild birds to the garden
DonÕt wing it when attracting wild birds to the garden
By Daniel OÕDonnell
Spring is in the air and so are many wild birds looking for nesting materials and food. Some are expectant mothers and some have just become mothers. Some may be passing through on their migration route. Providing water, food, and a possible home is one of the best ways to enjoy many of the different types of birds that share our air space.
It is important to provide a clean water source, even with the recent rains. Birds use water not only for drinking but for bathing and cooling off in the mild Bay Area winter. Protection from cats is the main theme that will creep into every aspect of providing a habitat for wild birds. The water source should be placed at least a few feet off the ground, within a hose length of a faucet, and away from any tall vegetation where a cat or other predator can hide. Purchasing a breakaway cat collar with a bell will provide an early alarm system for a bathing bird while ensuring the catÕs safety as well.
What comes first, the bird food or the bird feeder? The answer in most cases is the food. The first thing a new enthusiast could determine is what type of wild birds he or she would like to attract. Recent studies have concluded that feeding wild birds with a general seed mixture encourages the comingling of different birds, and can contribute to multispecies outbreaks of avian diseases and make it easier for parasites to jump between birds.
Different birds will also pick through a general food to find the seed type they prefer, wasting a lot of the food. It is better to choose a food that targets one or two types of birds with the specific seed or kernel that they prefer. This will reduce waste and is the safest scenario for the birds. Mixtures with shelled and cracked corn, different millets, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or rapeseeds can be purchased at BogieÕs Discount Pet Food & Supplies (37085 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont).
Once it is determined what species of bird is desired, a feeder specific to their type of food can be purchased. These feeders take into account the birdÕs eating habits and make it difficult for other birds or animals to access the food. Finches, for example, are small birds that ideally are fed thistle seeds through a sock made of a mesh material. Finches and sparrows can easily perch on the cloth sock while it is almost impossible for larger birds to do so. A feeder with a large platform will accommodate larger birds. Place feeders in a dry location and out of reach from cats.
It can be entertaining to watch hungry birds fly to and from a feeder. It can also be charming to hear songbirds singing from their nests in the trees. No one can tell a wild bird where to build a nest, but providing the materials for it might encourage construction close by. Leaving small twigs, grass clippings, pine needles, and other garden debris scattered on the ground near a bird feeder or bird bath will provide an easy source of materials for a nestÕs construction. This can entice a bird to stay close but there is the lingering potential danger of being caught by a cat.
A safer way to provide nesting material is to build a grab bag filled with material and hang it in a tree where a bird might build a nest. A small cage or mesh bag can be filled with natural materials such as the garden debris listed above. They can also be filled with pieces (no longer than three inches) of things made out of natural fibers such as yarn, cloth, burlap bags, and wool. Fur from a pet brush, cocoa fiber, and feathers also make great nesting materials. Dryer lint, nylon twine, and plastic bags should never be used because they can suffocate or strangle a bird. Anything natural and chemical free is best.
Birds are in ever-increasing competition for real estate in urban areas. Building a bird box or purchasing a bird house can alleviate some of this pressure. This is especially true for smaller and some less aggressive native bird species. A yearly removal of the bedding material in the fall will keep the home attractive for the next generation.
Building a bird box is simple but there are some valuable tips to be successful. Choosing the correct entrance size will allow smaller birds access to the home while denying entry to larger ones. The type of wood, ventilation holes and a sloped roof to keep the rain out are also important design elements. Visit the National Wildlife Federations website at www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Young/Nesting-Box.aspx for a complete list of design suggestions, placement, care, and other pertinent information.
Bird houses can be artistically appealing. Whether made from a lobster trap buoy from Maine, a gourd from Pennsylvania farm country, or a coconut from Hawaii, purchasing a bird house while on vacation can provide a useful and visual reminder of the trip and culture of an area.
People inhabit the ground and birds inhabit the sky. Helping to bring their world closer to ours gives us and them the best of both worlds.
Daniel OÕDonnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont. www.Chrysalis-Gardens.com