GARDEN FRIENDS: THE BIRDS

Baby Blue Bird flies for he first time and leaves the nest!
OUR GARDEN FRIENDS: THE  BIRDS

     Having birds about the yard is always pleasant, their songs  fill the  early morning air with a miraculous chorus and enthusiasm for the day that is unparalleled !  Listening to the songbirds at dawn is a memorable experience that all need to experience.  It is worth making a special occasion one morning to do this. This would be a 5 a.m. event!  Besides the enjoyment  we find with wild birds ~ they are also very helpful to us  They are excellent in keeping our yards and gardens in natural balance and insect pests under control.  They eat many insects such as mosquitos, flies and other  garden pests,  they also help pollinate our trees, shrubs and plants. Many common native birds actually prefer to be near human habitat and willingly accept our help by using nesting boxes. A few of these might be Wrens, Chickadees,Nuthatches, Robins, Finch, Purple Martins or Warblers.
Not all wild birds nest in boxes, but the ones that do are called "cavity dwellers" , which is derived from their natural instinct to nest in a hollow tree. With the spread of humanity into wild areas more and more, hollow trees are become fewer and fewer, pushing some those kinds of birds to be at risk. This is why is so helpful to install correctly designed bird houses for their use.
  Putting out nesting boxes for  our feathered friends is interesting, rewarding and key to helping our environment. Here are a few ideas of how to encourage songbirds in our yards. 
Here is a little wren building a nest in the front yard using a home made house designed with the birds needs in mind, mounted on a 6ft  metal pole, to discourage predators.

    

 This is a Robin's Shelter , as Robins are ledge nesters and like to nest on platforms and ledges, they usually look for place that also has  an over head shelter.  

Bird houses, also called bird boxes, are not complex to make if anyone has basic wood working skills. There are also kits available as well as a wealth of instructional material on the internet and in bookstores. Ready made houses, simple and functional or custom yard “art” are also readily available, starting at about $25. 

   The important thing here is to look into the proper size holes for birds in your area and the correct design of the house. Often you can get a list of local or native birds from the local Forestry office or Station, or a University.
  In a nutshell, a good birdhouse is something that mimics a hollow tree. It can be square or round, but should taller than it is wide.  Think of a large Quaker Oatmeal box and  you have a pretty good idea of the right shape and size of an ideal birdhouse.  The hole has to be the right size for the desired birds to enter usually between 1 1/8” to 1 5/8”, the right size hole helps keep predators out. The hole needs to be at least 5 or 6 inches above the floor level and for small birds, the interior diameter needs to be at least 4 inches. The hole size , interior cavity size and mounting height are well documented & it is easy to find a chart on the internet. 
Watching birds building a nest, incubate the eggs and feed their young is a rewarding process for all.  


 A mother Wren in a home made house, feeding her young. 

Installing nesting boxes not only helps the birds, it gives children a wonderful way of learning about the identification and life cycle of our little feathered friends. Being involved in the process of establishing bird nesting gives them a personal connection to them, one they will carry with them as they grow up.  Birds seem to always come back to the nest boxes they used before.  A wren family always returns to a house that has been used for years, whether this is the original  pair or some of their young, I do not know, but it is nice to know they will be arriving!  Wrens are so friendly and like nesting close to human"s houses. Think of putting a little wren house on the eve outside a window by the kitchen table or a child’s bedroom!  Very enjoyable to watch indeed!



Western bluebirds feeding their family, this pair raised 5 babies in this house, taking turns feeding them.


This is a Tree Swallow. Both the male and female look alike and take care of young together. Tree swallows are one of the earliest songbirds to arrive in Spring. They are very friendly and eats lots of mosquitos and insects. They have distinct call and nice to have around. 

        We can create a welcoming habitat that invites birds to come and stay. We can do this by providing basic requirements such as food, water and shelter. A water source such as fountain, bird bath or a pond is great attraction. This can be as simple as a large shallow dish on a stump. Making a waterfall with an inexpensive circulating pump and even a pond is fun weekend project too and is extremely fun for children to help with. This can easily be done with found objects and does not have to be costly. Trickling water always attracts birds , they both drink it and bathe in it. In future articles I will give instruction on creating water features. 


Here is a simple garden feature made from a repurposed "fire pit' bowl " supported by rocks and a circulating pump for a water fall.  This area was always busy with birds and toads.  Water and shelter are two main ingredients to encourage birds, and the other is planting flowers , shrubs and grasses that the birds really like. A yard full of vegetation of all kinds is very inviting to the birds.



This is a water feature I built in my yard, my vegetable garden is just out of site to the left. This area provides plenty of food for all the birds and also native toads. I only put birdseed out in the winter when it snows as I feel that feeding birds other times interferes with their natural activity of foraging for food in a healthy environment. 



For many years I worked on a large property that had a Wood Duck Program, which consisted of building and mounting nesting boxes and then monitoring them through the nesting season. Along this route we we also installed Blue Bird Boxes. Over the years I saw that the Blue Bird boxes were largely being used by Tree Swallows, who arrived a little earlier in the Spring than Blue birds and were a little more aggressive in their behavior for procuring a nest box. Looking into this dilemma, I read that the solution was to mount a second bird box , within 4 feet from the first one. The Swallows would chase off their own species from their nest area, but not other species. This was an interesting idea to me and I wanted to try it. I decided to create a “bird neighborhood” where I had a row of houses. Over several years I had different combinations of families, Wrens, Bluebirds, Nut Hatch and Tree Swallows all nest within a few feet from each other without conflict. The Wrens and Tree Swallows even fed each others young. Being able to create a bird neighborhood is a truly delightful project and very rewarding! Some birds will actually nest twice in a season too.


I  I made this neighborhood in my front  yard Plum tree:-)


This is a shelf I put up on my front porch, filling it with toad and birdhouses. 
A Wren moved into the smaller birdhouse and was so chipper and friendly. Wrens perfer to nest near human habitation and do not hesitate to nest right next to a house. You can hang Wren houses on our porch or the eaves and they will move in!


I hope some of these ideas  have encouraged and inspired you to think about making lovely habitats for you for our garden friends. There are other tutorials on making special places for toads and frogs and the gardens also encourage wild bees and hummingbirds, also garden friends, to pollinate our trees and flowers and help keep a healthy  balance in nature and find learning and enjoyment from doing it.



All content of this post may not copied or used with out permission of the the owner,  Lucinda Claire Macy Copyright 2016

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