Birds of a Feather
Creating a hospitable environment for your winged favorites.
One of the enjoyments of having a yard is being able to observe and listen to the variety of songbirds that may nest or pass through your neighborhood. Increase your chances of drawing them to your backyard by extending a warm welcome of food, water and shelter.
Allan & Janey Jahner, owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Winter Springs, say that any time of year is ideal to begin feeding birds. “Migrant birds move through Florida, so you never know what exciting species may grace your yard,” says Allan. In the springtime, local birds are raising their families, “so activity at your feeders or birdbaths is high.” During the winter months, watch for painted bunting, which Allan says is one of the most beautiful birds in North America.
Put out a variety of bird feeders and seeds, including black oil sunflower, which is a special treat for all seed-eating birds. Want to keep squirrels and “problem birds” such as grackles away from your feeders? Include safflower seed, which is bitter tasting (but most backyard birds love it) and will repel nuisance animals. Many birds enjoy peanuts, adds Janey, which can be offered whole or shelled. “Other important seeds that you can use in your feeders are chips—sunflower seeds that are out of the shell,” she says. “You can find blends of seed that have no shells. This is nice since you won’t have a mess, and nothing grows under your feeders.” Also, some seeds work better at different times of the year. Millet, for example, will attract more birds in the winter, as there are more birds in Central Florida that enjoy it in the colder months. Suet is also popular, but be sure to use no-melt suet dough in the summertime.
Give ’Em Shelter
There are three key elements to consider when choosing a birdhouse. First is the size of the home in relation to the size of the bird. For example, if you’d like to attract a Carolina wren, a birdhouse that’s too deep will cause the bird to look elsewhere.
Second is the size of the entrance hole. “If your house has the wrong diameter hole, you may be limiting what [type of bird] goes in it,” notes Allan. Finally, birds are finicky about the height of the birdhouse from the ground. Some, such as Carolina wrens and Eastern bluebirds are comfortable nesting closer—five feet or so—to the ground, but other birds such as the tufted titmouse prefer to nest much higher—closer to the 10-foot mark. Also, not all birds nest in birdhouses; those who do are called cavity nesters. Other birds, such as the Northern cardinal, prefer to nest in shrubs and bushes. These types of birds are called open nesters.
Provide a Water Source
“A birdbath can be a very effective means to attract many species of birds to your yard,” says Janey. “Not all birds eat seed from feeders, but all birds do need to bathe and drink water.” Keep the bath clean and fresh, replacing the water often. “Most people can draw anywhere from 10 to 30 different species to their feeders every month,” says Allan. “One of the most exciting things about bird-feeding is that you never know what may show up in your yard.”
To learn more about attracting birds and successful bird-feeding, go to the University of Florida IFAS Extension at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw192