Backyard Birding Through Fall and All Winter Long
By Volunteer Lee Ann Kinzer
A survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports 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, right from the windows of your home. Some of your visitors will be just that, visiting birds passing through on their long flights of migration, and 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 can supplement natural food sources, though principally only seed-eaters (or, in winter months, suet-eaters) will use feeders. Be sure to place feeders at least 8 feet from trees or other squirrel launching pads or to use free-standing poles. 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 be host to 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 for attracting unwanted creatures. Providing just water can bring in some birds, help them out 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 will be especially 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: Water additives that keep ice from forming negatively affects birds' feathers, which can prove deadly for them.
SHELTER & A PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG
Birdhouses, nesting platforms (preferred by some species), and winter roosting boxes can supplement garden plantings. Some 50 bird species will accept nestboxes, 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.