It's February in Texas, and although my plants may have been fooled into thinking Spring Has Arrived, my wintery feathered friends are still showing up each morning for a little snack. Feeding birds is not only great entertainment (with minimum effort), it also benefits even the smallest yards and gardens.
To attract wild birds to your yard, you only need two things: water and food, and you can probably do without the second. Seriously. The number one draw for wild birds is a fresh water source. You can get fancy with birdbaths, or simple with a shallow bowl - most birds aren't picky, as long as it has fresh water. With a water source, you'll attract birds that don't normally come to seed feeders, like mockingbirds, wrens and robins. What's the benefit? Instead of seed, they eat bugs - lots and lots of bugs.
Of course, you'll get even more birds with food. If you're on a budget, stick with a basic wild bird food mix. I usually buy one bag of basic wild bird food and mix it with one bag of black oil sunflower seeds (in their hulls). Upping the sunflower seed count attracts a wider variety of birds. If you're swimming in the green, you can buy fancy seed mixes from your local lawn and garden center (or even order it online), but don't forget that squirrels aren't that picky, either.
Deciding where and how to store the bird seed is important, especially if you buy in bulk. If you store it inside, be sure it's in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. If you store your seed outside, I recommend you invest in a galvanized metal garbage can with an animal-proof lid (one that locks down or just has a tight fit). I've had mine for decades and haven't met a raccoon yet who could get in them. Using a plastic container outside doesn't work - there are quite a few critters who can chew right through a plastic bucket to get to the food.
Now, if you feed birds, you may end up feeding other critters as well. You can buy squirrel proofing for bird feeders (baffles, special feeders, etc.), but my solution to the 'squirrel problem' is to only put out as much seed as the birds can consume in about an hour. If your feeder is mounted on a metal pole, try coating the pole with cooking spray. Not only does it keep the squirrels out of the feeder, it's hilarious to watch the results.
I'm a third generation bird fanatic, so I was excited last spring to discover that my back yard had once again become a baby bird day care. I spent many entertaining mornings watching a baby blue jay try not to drown himself while he learned how to take a bath. No worries though, I have a large stone in each of my bird baths to give them something to hang onto. Remember that a (stupid) bird can drown in 2 inches of water.
So, while you're taking time to smell the flowers this year, think about spending some of it with a few feathered friends.
- Where can I buy bird seed? All of the big chain home improvement stores have good selections and reasonable prices. You might also try to your local big box store for seasonal deals.
- What kind of birdbath should I get? Any kind. My grandmother used one of those big clay pot saucers for years. I have three concrete (two on pedestals, one at ground level) birdbaths, one plastic, and one small ceramic bowl (sitting in a hanging planter) that I rinse out and fill each morning. Why a bowl? Wee birds like finches and wrens are more comfortable with a narrow bowl edge for their tiny feet.
- What kind of bird feeder should I get? Any kind. I have one that's just an open box with a screened bottom, and one that has Plexiglas sides with a flip-top lid to fill it. If you're not interested in feeding the local squirrel population, you can buy a special 'squirrel proof' feeders from your local hardware store.
- Recycle: Many of my bird feeders and bird baths were rescued from trash piles and alley ways on bulk trash day, so don't be afraid to take a little drive through your neighborhood on trash day. Some simple repairs and a little elbow grease were all that was needed to get them back into shape.
- Make your backyard a certified wildlife habitat: Answer some simple questions at the National Wildlife Federation (along with a small fee) to make your backyard a certified Wildlife Habitat.