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Backyard Habitat for Birds

    Birds, like any animal, need food, water and shelter.  The set of these needs defines a habitat.  Each species has its own habitat requirements, so the more variety you can create in your yard the more birds you may see in it.
    For seed-eating birds, you can put out feeders.  This is quick and easy and works quite well.  The more different types of seed you put out, the greater variety of birds you will attract.  For a more natural habitat, you can also landscape with seed and berry bearing plants which are native in your area.
    Many birds don't eat seeds, but do eat insects.  If you or your neighbors spray pesticides, you are eliminating these birds' food supply - destroying their habitat - and possibly even poisoning them, too.  It is hard to put out insects in feeders, but many insect eating birds will eat suet.  Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are common at suet feeders in much of North America.  Mealworms are another option.   They are big and tasty and you can feed them in a simple screen feeder.  A screen feeder is just a rectangular frame with window screen (vinyl or stainless steel) stretched over the bottom of it.
    Water is vital to all life.  When the weather is dry, a bird bath can be a life-saving oasis which will attract many birds.  They like to bathe in it as well as drink it, so be sure and clean it often.  Or you can incorporate a pump and filter into your bird bath and it will double as a pleasant sounding water feature in your yard.  Whether you buy, or build yourself, consider that a bird bath should mimic a mud puddle in shape if not in size.  Mud puddles are very shallow and have very gradually sloped bottoms.  Too many bird baths are so steep-sided that the birds are afraid to use them.  1.5" deep is about the right maximum depth.
    Here is a photo of a small birdbath/fountain that I made in our yard.  (The plants have not yet grown in around it.)  The large stone in the center has just a shallow depression to hold a puddle of water. The rock has a hole in it. I tend to drill holes in rocks but a hole is not necessary. Water from the pump could simply be routed up the back side of the rock and directed onto it. The big bathing rock sits on a bed of gravel (1.5" river rock) which fills a 20 gallon plastic basin which is buried in the ground. A pump was placed in the bottom of the basin (and protected with some filter cloth) and a piece of tubing was led up and out before the pump was buried with gravel. Water fills the spaces between the gravel. Most of the rocks in the picture are just landscaping and to cover the rim of the plastic basin so it looks nice.
    The birds love this bath. One reason is the perches. Look closely and you will see two perches, one high and one right down at the water level. These are vital for a birdbath of any kind. Birds are very nervous about bathing because they are more vulnerable when their feathers are wet. Almost every single bird that has bathed in this bath, and most which drink from it, land on the high perch and look around first. No matter what kind of bird bath you've got, adding a perch next to it will help bring in more birds.
    Shelter requirements vary from species to species.  In the spring and summer, reproducing is every bird's objective and each species has its own preferred nesting habitat.  Leaving a corner of your yard unattended and brushy may provide nesting sites for wrens, goldfinches, hummingbirds, and many others.  Leave a dead tree standing and woodpeckers will show up to feed on the termites living in it and may hollow out a nest cavity.  Some birds, like chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, and others will nest in a man-made nesting box.  Most birds will not.  When placing a nestbox it is important to consider the nesting habitat of the bird you wish to attract.   Look at your yard and see what is available.  It would be futile to put up a box for chickadees on a pole in the middle of a field, but a tree swallow may look at that same box and think it had just found the Ritz.
    Winter birds need shelter, too.  Some birds, like chickadees and nuthatches, will roost in former nesting cavities or boxes to get out of the weather.  Many birds will crawl into dense shrubs or perch next to the trunk of an evergreen tree with tight branches.  If you live in an area with fairly predictable prevailing winds, put some shelter plants on the lee side of your house for the birds to roost in.


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