Backyards that’re “For the Birds”… How to Create a Bird-friendly Backyard just in time for Spring and Summer
Spring is only a few weeks away…the weather is starting to warm up, the sun is trying hard to show its face, and people are starting to get outdoors and into their yards to plant gardens and flowers. Many people try and figure out just what they want to do to make their outdoor experience all it can be for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. Whether you like to build things, grill or putter around the yard, it’s always nice to relax at the end of a long hot day and enjoy the results of your efforts. A great way to help make your garden more colorful and engaging is to watch and attract wild birds. Not only do birds add color, entertainment and beauty, they also serenade you and help keep the bugs away from you and from your garden!
There can be so much beauty and even hilarity in watching wild birds, be it in your backyard or when you’re walking or hiking. Just the beauty and color they are blessed with can be breathtaking, and the curiosity and playfulness that they seem to display is often contagious, if not thoroughly entertaining.
Another way to gather the family together and bring n unique view of nature would be through the many Parks and Recreation hiking trails throughout Austin. Many of these beautiful nature preserves and hiking trails have a myriad of beautiful foliage, water features and yes…wild birds. Walking through nature and not only hearing the birds, but seeing them in full color is exciting and fun. Take your camera and see if you can capture some of the unique colors you will see on our fair-weathered friends.
If you and your family are interested in creating a bird friendly backyard, there are a number of ways that you can attract birds. This can be done by planting native plants and providing safe stopover areas for birds to eat, drink and nest. Below are some helpful tips from various experts that will help ensure that you not only bring birds into your backyard, but that you keep them healthy and well-fed, thus maybe being lucky enough to bring them back again next year.
Tips on creating bird-friendly backyards:
- Provide water year-round - A birdbath is a great start. It can be a simple one, or a decorative one to go with the landscape in your backyard. Change the water every 2-3 days in the summer and in winter. Place the birdbath about 10 feet from dense shrubs or other cover that predators may use.
- Install native plants - Select a variety of native plants to offer year-round food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts, and nectar. Try to recreate the plant ecosystem native to our area. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide excellent cover through all seasons, if they are part of your local ecosystem. The Austin Parks and Recreation’s Nature-based programs website has information on recommended native plants for Central Texas.
- Eliminate insecticides in your yard - Insects are the primary source of food for many bird species and are an important source of protein and fats for growing juvenile birds. Eliminating insecticides help feed the birds and keep them healthy.
- Keep dead trees - Dead trees provide cavity-dwelling places for birds to raise their young and as a source to collect insects for food. Many birds will also seek shelter from bad weather inside these hollowed out trees.
- Put out birdhouses / nesting boxes - Make sure the birdhouses have ventilation holes at the top and drainage holes below. Do not use a box with a perch, as house sparrows are known to sit on a nesting box perch and peck at other birds using the nesting box. Be sure to monitor the boxes for invasive animal species known to harm or out-compete native species.
- Build a brush pile in a corner of your yard - Start with larger logs and top with smaller branches. Some birds will hunt, roost or even nest in brush piles.
- Offer food in feeders - Bird feeders are a great sources of supplemental food during times of food scarcity, and also enhance bird viewing opportunities by bringing them to one spot.
- Download the "Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat" Tipsheet (pdf) from the National Wildlife Association.
Types Of Bird Seed for Attracting a Greater Variety of Wild Birds
Each bird species has food preferences, so providing multiple kinds of foods throughout the year will help attract a greater variety of birds to your bird feeding station on a regular basis.
Black-Oil Sunflower Seed - Considered the #1 choice to feed and attract the greatest variety of birds to your feeders. Rich in oil, black oil sunflower seeds give birds the energy they need to live. The thin shell makes it an easy bird seed to open, even for the smaller birds.
Offer this type of food in Hopper or Tube type bird feeder. You'll attract Cardinals, Nuthatches, finches, and a variety of others. If you are going to offer only one type, give black oil sunflower seed a try.
Hulled Sunflower Seed - This type is the same as above except that the shell has been removed. Because it is more expensive, offer it in a squirrel proof type feeder.
The nice thing about offering sunflower hearts and chips is that there is no mess, since all of the bird seed will be eaten. Sometimes black oil sunflower seed left on the ground prevents some plants from growing.
If this is a concern in the area you are feeding birds try using hulled seed instead. You'll attract the same birds without the mess.
Safflower is a favorite seed of the Northern Cardinal. House Finches and Mourning Doves will also feed on this type. The nice thing is that most squirrels will leave it alone and you can place it on a platform/hopper feeder. Cardinals can more easily feed from tray/platform feeders rather than ones with small perches.
Nyjer - Thistle Seed Thistle, or more accurately, Nyjer seed, is a finch favorite. A specialty food loved by Goldfinches, Purple Finches and even mourning Doves. This tiny black seed from India and Africa is available at most places that offer wild bird food. Long used in Canary mixes, it’s now common as a wild bird food source.
Goldfinches are attracted more to the nyjer than sunflower seed. Every year we present both kinds, and every year the finches arrive. Pine Siskins also like nyjer seed. And yes, even as tiny as this seed is it still has a shell (hull) that will pile up on the ground. Fortunately, the seeds will not sprout because the seed was sterilized before entering the U.S.
A special feeder with small ports will be needed when offering this seed. For a variety of these feeder see: Thistle Feeder
Striped Sunflower - While most birds prefer black oil sunflower to striped sunflower seed, it still remains a cheaper alternative. Try placing some on a platform feeder to prevent squirrels and raccoons from raiding your regular feeders. Place it away from your bird feeders.
The shell is harder than black oil sunflower seed making it more difficult for small birds to open. Still, Bluejays, Cardinals, and some Woodpeckers will make use of striped sunflower.
Cracked or Whole Kernel Corn - will attract Eastern Bluebirds, Jays, Pheasants, and other game birds. By offering cracked corn throughout the year, you'll be able to watch birds that normally don't visit your other feeders. Available at feed supply and birdwatching aisles of most stores.
It is best to place cracked corn on platform feeders or scattered on the ground for game birds. Be aware that mammals will also be visiting. These include raccoons and opossums along with rodents.
Premium Mixes - These are packages of a mixture of bird seeds that are attractive to a variety of birds. Generally consisting of black oil sunflower, peanut, millet, striped sunflower, and others mixed together.
Personally, I think it’s best to offer each type of seed separately because the more aggressive bird breeds may drive the less aggressive birds away.
Cheap Mixes - While they won't be labeled as such, cheap mixes rarely attract the most desirable birds. Generally consisting of red and white milo, cracked corn, wheat, striped sunflower and other seeds.
Any desirable birds that feed on these types of bird seed will readily come to eat at any of the other types you place in your yard. Most of the cheaper mixes are derivatives of the poultry industry. And as such, are not suited for bird watching enthusiast.
Suet - While not a bird seed, so many birds are attracted to suet that it must be discussed here. Suet is made from beef fat. Most stores that offer seed also offer suet. You'll find a wide variety of suet types. Suet will be mixed with bird seed, berries, and peanut butter mixed in with the suet.
Some of the birds that enjoy suet are: Black Capped Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Wrens. Offer suet in a suet feeder, a special wire cage made to hold suet.