Bird Watching Tips
Did you know bird watching is the second most popular pastime in North America, second only to gardening?
I’ve been having a lot of enjoyment this fall and winter watching the birds just outside my office window. I look out onto a clump of bamboo and a vine-covered archway leading to the front door.
Right now, chickadees are most abundant, but wrens, towhees and sparrows visit throughout the day.
It’s easy to integrate bird watching into your yard and your gardening with plants that supply food to birds. Take the next step, and add feeding stations and nesting sites to encourage and attract these beautiful feathered creatures.
Start by noticing which birds are local to your area. Are there some that stay throughout fall and winter? Are there others that winter in your area, but go elsewhere during the summer breeding season?
Find out what type of food your feathered visitors prefer and require to stay healthy. Plan to supplement the natural food – seed heads and berries and insects – with bird feeders.
Tips for bird watching success
- Place bird feeders where they can easily be filled and cleaned. If you like to make your own, here’s a design for making a large bird feeder from wood. http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/free-bird-feeder-plans.html.
- Install feeders at least 10 feet from trees and fences so squirrels and cats can’t jump onto them. They should be in a clear area so birds can see approaching danger in time to fly off. Here’s a selection of squirrel proof bird feeders that will last for many years of bird watching enjoyment.
- Make sure you locate any bird feeders where it is easy to clean the area beneath them of scattered seeds and bird droppings. Scattered seeds – and there will be many – will attract mice and rats. If you’re in an area where these rodents are a potential problem, place your feeders well away from buildings, where they may find egress.
- If possible, place the feeders where they are visible from indoors so you can enjoy the activity they will attract. Put decals on windows nearby, so reflections of nature are broken up, discouraging the birds from flying into the window.
- Hummingbirds are territorial, so if you want to attract more than one or two, place several feeders in different locations.
- Keep any bird feeders clean. If the seeds get wet, or mixed with droppings, clean the feeder and relocate it. Wet seeds can get moldy and can cause infections . Cleaning away dropped seeds before they get damp and sprout is also important to prevent disease.
- Clean a hummingbird feeder at least twice a week in warm weather, each time your refill it. Fill only to the half-way mark, so that you must refill often. Do not use harsh detergents – hot water and a bottle brush are sufficient.
- When cleaning bird feeders that are stocked with seeds, clean them with a mild bleach solution and rinse well. Dry the feeder thoroughly before refilling it.
What to feed the birds
Wild bird seed, available in many locations, is designed for a variety of different birds. Since some birds are more aggressive than others, if you use non-selective seed mixes you should have more than one feeder. This is so the less aggressive birds will have access to some of the food. You will find, however, that there is more seed dropped and scattered, since birds will scratch to find the seeds they prefer in the mix. Buy your mixed seed from a specialized bird feed store or a feed store, not cheap mixes that may contain junk seeds.
Alternatively, set up selective feeders, with just one type of food in each. Waste will be reduced, and each variety of bird will enjoy their preferred food without being bothered by other birds. Black oil sunflower seeds are preferred by many birds, so make sure you have at least one or two feeders with this seed. Peanuts are another favorite, and can be either shelled or unshelled. Larger birds like jays, woodpeckers and ravens have no problem shelling them.
Overwintering birds require fats for energy, and some prefer to get it from suet. Get some suet from your butcher – or it may be available in a bird feed store – and hang it from a branch. Chickadees, woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and wrens all are attracted to suet. Place it near the tree trunk, since most of the birds that prefer suet are ones that cling to tree trunks.
You can come up with your own homemade treats for overwintering birds. Spread peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke peanut bits or sunflower seeds into it. Make your own suet based treats by liquefying beef or lamb fat and adding bits of peanuts, fruit or sunflower seeds. Allow it to harden, and hang it in a mesh onion bag.
Once you’ve started bird watching in your yard, you’ll soon expand your interest in birds to wider horizons. Check local walks and trails, see if your area has a birding club, or grab a camera and head to any tidal area. Birds are everywhere, and can be endlessly fascinating to watch.
Note: All photos courtesy of Pixabay.