A past survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that more than 50 million Americans watch birds. By considering the four elements emphasized in the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program — food, water, cover, and a place to raise young — you can be assured of a variety of birds to watch from the windows of your home. Some of your visitors will be just that — visiting birds passing through on long flights of migration. Others will become familiar, year-round residents.
Their needs aren’t so different from yours. Birds just define their desires a little differently.
Bird feeders supplement natural food sources, though principally only seed-eaters — or, in winter months, suet-eaters — will use feeders. Place feeders at least eight feet from trees or other squirrel launching pads, or use free-standing poles with baffles. Feeders will be busiest from late October through the winter, and it is important to remember that late spring, when natural food supplies are still low, is a critical time to continue offering food.
Bird feeders can host bacteria and parasites that can spread disease through the wild bird population if the feeders are not regularly cleaned and sanitized. Many homeowners are concerned about attracting the “wrong element,” such as crows, starlings, squirrels or rats. Putting out a minimal amount of seed per day, using shelled seeds or certain types of seeds can alleviate the problem. Spillage and the aroma from discarded shells is often the cause of attracting unwanted creatures. Providing only water can bring in some birds, help them, and eliminate the nuisance animal issue.
Birds will happily drink or bathe in ponds, streams, ditches, puddles, or birdbaths. A birdbath should be set in a sunny clearing, ideally 15 feet from trees or shrubs where predators can lurk but with nearby branches to use as an escape route. Baths should be no more than 2-3 inches deep and should be rough-surfaced. Birds especially will be attracted to baths or pools with dripping or running water.
For the winter, when birds continue to need water, birdbath heaters are available, or you can break or melt the ice on baths or pools. Year-round, it is important that water is clean. Note that water additives that prevent ice from forming negatively affect birds’ feathers, which can prove deadly for them.
SHELTER & A PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG
Birdhouses, nesting platforms, and winter roosting boxes can supplement garden plantings. Some 50 bird species will accept nest boxes, while about 35 will use them regularly. If you use birdhouses, remember that you will need to clean them out between broods and at the end of the nesting season.
Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers feature many birding programs and resources.
This blog was adapted from an article in the Park Authority’s ResOURces newsletter files.
More blogs about birds:
Winter is a Great Time for Birding
What to Feed Birds When Your Kid is Allergic to Nuts
What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm?
Where Do Animals Go During A Snowstorm?
Walk on the Wild Side of Winter
The Value of Exhibit Animals at Nature Centers
The View from the Tower at Huntley Meadows
Keeping Fairfax County Blue