Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Many Ways We Enjoy Backyard Birding

A flowering backyard apple tree will attract orioles, warblers, vireos, hummingbirds, and more during spring. A female Baltimore Oriole will also visit your feeding station when stocked with sliced oranges and grape jelly (photo by Paul Konrad).

It’s that time of the year when everything comes together for backyard birders to appreciate what you’ve done, and enjoy the birds that make their way into your yard each day during spring migration and the start of the nesting season. But while you’re relaxing with a clear mind, it’s OK to think about a few plans – small or large – that will add more bird-oriented value for you and your family, while beautifying your yard and giving it a bit more character.

Relax; enjoy the growing mixture of bird songs. The payoff is just beginning, and you have the entire summer ahead of you to enjoy and improve your yard, your landscaping, flower gardens, feeding station, water features, nest box options, and more. It’s always good to have a list; an outline of sorts, so we will give you a head start by providing a spring to summer list of topics to consider in coming days, weeks, and months. No rush, whenever you’re ready.

Optics – Let’s start with the suggestion to keep your binoculars within reach at all times during the coming weeks when a new bird, maybe even a life bird that you’ve never seen before slips out of the new leaves. A magnification of 8x is standard and usually preferred, but everyone has their own favorites.

Landscaping is usually related to larger plants, such as trees, bushes, and the like. Many people are enthused about adding new trees during the spring season, although some people prefer fall planting. In the sunbelt, anytime is a good time to plant a tree. Trees that flower and provide berries or nuts are doubly interesting to birds, and any tree provides perches, leaf cover, caterpillars and bugs, and shade – all elements attractive to birds.

Gardening is another broad area of interest as spring attracts us into our yard. Flower gardens can do so much to beautify our yards, whether confined to one area, used as a border, or even as a number of small areas of garden color scattered around your yard. Flowering plants can be hummingbird magnets, and plants that produce red tube-shaped flowers will be favored by hummers, with pink, orange, and yellow tubular flowers are good too. Of course, other birds will be attracted to garden areas too, and a space reserved for growing sunflowers can attract another group of birds that prefer seeds.

Nest Boxes – At this point you probably have a bird house or 2 in position for cavity-nesting songbirds ranging from wrens and chickadees to bluebirds and Tree Swallows. Realistically, you can add a nest box any time of the year with the idea that it will be utilized in future years. Sometimes it takes a while for a nesting pair to select a given bird house, so don’t hesitate to show off a new nest box in your yard. The most important thing that many non-birders overlook is to have a form of predator proofing for any nest boxes to ensure the safety of birds that use it. Positioning nest boxes in the right habitat for the birds you wish to attract is another consideration, as is the size of the entrance hole. For all the best information about bird houses and cavity nesting birds, refer to NestWatch at NestWatch | Features of a Good Birdhouse - NestWatch

Big Nest Boxes – Providing a larger nest box for cavity nesting owls, ducks, and falcons takes backyard birding to another level. Although it may require finding a location beyond your yard to attract screech owls, Wood Ducks, or American Kestrels to nest, if you can attract these interesting birds, you have definitely upped your game as a backyard birder. Again, the best source of information about big boxes and larger cavity nesting birds is NestWatch, and you can start with information about a Wood Duck nest box, which can double as a nest site for Hooded Mergansers, screech owls, and American Kestrels at NestWatch | Wood Duck - NestWatch

Purple Martin Houses – Being a Purple Martin landlord is a considerable undertaking, and getting started can be a bit expensive, but it’s an annual thrill for backyard birders who focus on providing a specialized nesting site for these big colonial nesting swallows. If you are interested in learning more about these interesting birds, including how you can provide a new “apartment house” to establish a martin nesting colony, you can refer to the Purple Martin Conservation Association – and you can shop for the best products to benefit Purple Martins there too.

Feeders & Foods – As for feeders, many birds that eat seeds during winter months switch to insects, spiders, and caterpillars during spring, therefore emphasize seasonal feeders including hummingbird nectar feeders, and a feeder for orioles on which you can provide cut oranges and grape jelly. Some other species will utilize these foods, which may include House Finches, Gray Catbirds, and more. No-melt suet is also a good option for the summer, and many birds may utilize suet you provide, especially woodpeckers and nuthatches. Also, concentrate on keeping feeders clean and filled as the summer temperatures climb.

Water – Fresh water is the best way to attract and benefit the greatest variety of birds, including migrating and nesting birds. Fresh water becomes even more important as temperatures get warmer and the weather gets drier. At the next level of water provision is providing moving water; it’s not necessary, but it does keep water from becoming stagnant, possibly attracting mosquitos, and the sound of water attracts birds that are new to your neighborhood, including migrating birds. As with feeders, be sure to keep your bird baths and other water features clean.

Photographing – Just as it’s best to have binoculars close at hand whenever possible, having a camera handy is also a very positive plan to document hard to identify birds that you can refer to later with a field guide in hand. You can also set up an outdoor photo “studio adjacent to your feeding station or a bird bath where you can photograph birds. It can be as simple as placing a hefty stick in the ground a few feet away from a feeder or water feature for birds to perch on – then photograph them as they pause before they move to food or water. You may even see a flycatcher use the perch as a place to hunt from, making forays after flying insects, then returning again. Many birders find that the more they photograph, the more they enjoy it, and the better photographers they become. It’s all very fun and rewarding!

In conclusion, after you’ve taken a look at the above spring to summer list of backyard birding topics, relax a while; kick back and listen to the bird songs; keep your binoculars within reach for the next new bird to appear or the next interesting behavior to transpire. Birds help us relax, but they also excite us, often when we least expect it. Either way, enjoy the birds that surround you and bring you closer to nature in all the best ways.

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