Although I moved text around and reorganized the pages on the website, I also reused a significant portion of the text. The introduction, motivation, and general information on habitats stayed the same. The description of the habitat changed as I made changes in the yard. I’m not repeating the home page info which hadn’t changed but I am including some of the updates of the habitat particulars.
Four Essential Elements
Food is one of the basic, and easiest, habitat requirements to provide. Many of us already have bird feeders in the backyard. I have five or six depending on the season – a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, a thistle feeder, a hopper feeder with mixed seed, a hummingbird feeder, a peanut feeder, and a suet feeder. Because I’ve seen so many goldfinches this year, I’ve added a second thistle feeder to accommodate them. This one requires the feeding birds to hang upside down to eat – a trick which goldfinches find easy but house and purple finches do not.
Bird stores, hardware stores, and even pet stores and grocery stores sell bird feeders, or you can make your own. The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center has detailed plans for a variety of feeders. The Division of Migratory Bird Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pamphlets on Backyard Bird Feeding and Landscaping to Attract Birds.
This can be a family project. KidzKorner has basic bird feeding information appropriate for children as well as low cost tips on feeding birds in your own yard, and the National Bird-Feeding Society has a free Learning about Backyard Birds kit for kids. Building a milk jug bird feeder is a great (but simple) project for kids.
Project FeederWatch provides information on its website on choosing feeders and choosing the right food. The Nutty Birdwatcher offers a feeding chart showing seed preferences. There’s another diet chart on wildbirdcare, and pictures of different kinds of seeds from Conservation Commission of Missouri. Most of the places you can buy bird feeders also sell bird seed, suet, and other supplies. You can also make your own gorp. The Wrenaissance FAQ page answers some common questions about bird feeding.
In addition, you’ll want to start cultivating natural food sources in your yard. Remember those native plants? That’s what your local birds are best adapted to eating. You can find out which plants are native to your area from your local native plant society or cooperative extension service. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center operates a clearinghouse of native plant information, and your local public library or bookstore will have books on native plants and bird gardening specific to your area. You can also search the NWF habitat database for habitats near you and see what plants they’ve chosen.
Wrenaissance’s fruit, seed, and berry plants include oak trees, inkberry, viburnum, serviceberry, paw paw, highbush blueberry, and American holly, all native to this area. Nectar plants for hummingbirds and butterflies include columbine, cardinal flower, azalea, blue lobelia, and bee balm. See the Wrenaissance plant list for more details on what I’ve planted.
Water is also easy to provide, and it will attract many birds and small mammals – more even than a variety of feeders. The sound of running or dripping water is extremely attractive to birds. Commercial misters or drippers are available at most bird seed stores, but a milk bottle with a tiny hole in it suspended above the bird bath will be just as effective. (Warning: it can be challenging to get the hole the right size, but it’s a good solution for areas that aren’t convenient for a faucet connection or electrical pump.) A few of us are lucky enough to have a natural pond or stream in our yards, and many more have built one to enhance a habitat or just for the aesthetic value. If you want to build one, the National Wildlife Federation provides instructions and encouragement. Robyn’s Pond Page provides in depth information and links.
Wrenaissance doesn’t have a pond (yet), but it does have two bird baths. One is near the feeders, and one hangs off the deck where it’s convenient to run a heater and keep the water supply available through out the winter. Winter water is even more important than summer, because there are fewer other sources of water for wildlife. It’s on the deck for easy access to the outlet (properly installed and grounded for outdoor use), but also for convenient viewing: on sub-freezing days, there’s a parade of birds and other wildlife coming for a drink.
Cover is protection – from natural predators such as hawks, and from neighborhood cats who roam free. It provides birds and other small animals the security to venture to your feeders and birdbath, when a safe haven is only a short distance away.
Wrenaissance includes native evergreen hollies such as the American holly tree in the front yard. There are also evergreen cherry laurels and a cypress, all inherited from the previous homeowners, planted in close proximity to provide a hedgerow in front of the house. In the backyard, there’s a row of five cotoneasters planted in front of the deck that are rapidly coalescing into a compact, low height hedgerow that offers shelter but doesn’t obstruct the view.
Alas, the brush pile had to go – brush piles provide excellent shelter for small amphibians and mammals, but aren’t a good idea in urban and near-urban areas.
If your property has large trees and shrubs, there will be natural places for birds and squirrels to nest. Snags (dead trees still standing in place) are great for cavity nesters such as woodpeckers. You can supplement these with bird houses (also called nestboxes).
Wrenaissance has a bird bottle (a less than optimum but traditional shelter that draws a tenant about every other year) and a bird house which typically houses a wren family or chickadees in the summer. Several years it’s had a surprise winter tenant. There are also Carolina Wrens nesting in the garage about half the time – but I haven’t yet designated the garage as an official nest box.
The Birdhouse Network at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides an excellent resource on birdhouse basics, including construction plans.