Read an Excerpt
From Attracting Backyard Birds
A Word from the NWF
When I was growing up, my family's garden had vegetables, gladiolas, calendulas, zinnias, and shrubs. A row of forsythia screened our front yard to the east. Azaleas, hollies, yews, and junipers framed the house, creating a green oasis even as the surrounding grass browned out in the summer's heat. Above these loomed trees: glorious American hollies, flowering dog-woods, a short-lived but much-climbed-upon weeping willow, and sturdy, aromatic pitch pines.
These plants weren't static denizens of the yard but, rather, vital providers of food and shelter to flocks of evening grosbeaks, American goldfinches, robins, cardinals, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and titmice. Supplemented by feeders, birdbaths, and nesting boxes, the trees, shrubs, and flowers created a haven for birds, which in turn enlivened my childhood days with their song, movement, color, and drama.
Tens of millions of people in North America brighten their lives by providing for the needs of birds, offering food from various plants and feeders, clean water, safe areas to escape marauding house cats or summer squalls, and secure cover in which to construct nests. They are repaid many times over in the entertainment, wonderful learning opportunities, and beauty their visitors bring to the garden.
But this bird-wise activity is also valuable on another level beyond the pleasure it brings. For if birds are to settle into or even visit a neighborhood, they must have these essentials. Indeed, sometimes an inviting backyard can mean the difference between an increasing resident bird population and local extinction. Or between asuccessful and an unsuccessful northward migration by thrushes, warblers, and vireos.
This book can teach you the basics of attracting birds to your property through actions big and small, whether you live on a vast rural estate or in a terraced city apartment. Equally important, the book can help you help our wild birds continue to be a vibrant, dynamic part of the world in which we and they are partners.
Chief Naturalist, Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, National Wildlife Federation
Birds are magical creatures. These sprites of the air delight us with their colorful plumage, their lilting songs, and their comical antics at feeders. In all their diversity, birds are undeniably fascinating creatures.
Of all the wild creatures with whom we share our planet, birds are perhaps the easiest to get to know. They are everywhere around us -- in the country and the city, in fields and forests, prairies and deserts, in the mountains and by the sea. As they fly across the sky, flutter down to rest on tree branches and telephone wires, and call to each other across neighborhoods and open spaces, birds bring color and music to our world. Their songs enchant us and remind us of our links to the rest of the natural world. It's wonderful to wake up to the sounds of birds and great fun to watch them as they go about the business of their lives. Watching birds around a backyard feeder or out in the wild can quickly become an absorbing activity.
Homeowners and gardeners can help nature the feathered creatures that brighten our world, even if only on a modest level. We can become sensitive to the needs of wild birds and provide habitat areas and sources of nourishment for them in our backyards. In becoming more involved with birds, we earn for ourselves the bonus of a richly rewarding hobby and a source of endless entertainment and education.
This book is an introduction to the things you can do to attract birds right to your own backyard. No matter where you live, you can make your yard an inviting site for all kinds of birds. And doing so doesn't cost a lot of money or take a lot of time.
If you like to garden, you'll find a range of particularly useful suggestions for turning your yard into a haven for birds -- by adding plants that provide them with much-appreciated food and shelter. Many of these ideas are simple enough to appeal even to those not generally inclined to gardening. You will also learn about different kinds of feeders you can install and what to put in them, birdbaths and other water sources that will draw birds, and nesting boxes and nesting shelves to put up. You will even find some tips on enjoying the birds that will come to visit (and even stay) in your backyard.
And whether you decide to adopt many of the suggestions in the following pages or just one or two, you are certain to find the effort well rewarded.
The seemingly endless variety of birds that populate our planet make their homes in an extraordinary range of habitats. Some birds reside in fields, meadows, and prairies. Others dwell in the desert. Some birds live at the seashore amid beaches and dunes; some near lakes, ponds, or streams; and others in salt- or freshwater wetlands and waterways, hunting for fish, crabs, mollusks, and other seafood.
Many birds inhabit woodlands and forests, nesting in trees and dining on insects as well as berries and seeds. A few birds have adapted to the mowed lawns of suburbia or the developed spaces of towns and cities, contenting themselves with such trees and shrubs as can be found in backyards, parkland, and vacant lots. Some even tuck their nests into protected ledges of skyscapers, high above the ground.
But no matter where birds live, and no matter what species they are, all share common needs. They need sources of food for both adults and young, water for drinking and cleaning themselves, and cover in which to escape predators and take shelter from bad weather. They also need protected places in which to build nests and raise their young.
There is considerable diversity in the types of foods the many different species of birds will eat. Fruit, seeds, nuts, and other plant products (such as pine cones, tree sap, and flower nectar) are the favored foods of quite a few birds. Lots of birds eat insects (including grubs) and caterpillars and feed their young on them too. They pick insects off leaves and stems or catch them in flight, and dig worms and grubs out of the ground. Some birds have a variable diet, consuming insects in spring and summer for themselves and their young, but eating other foods at other times of the year.
Water is also an essential part of a habitat for birds. They need a constant supply of fresh, clean water at all times of year for both drinking and bathing. They also use water to moisten the food they take back to the nest for their young. Ponds, streams, pools, puddles, birdbaths, and even leaves on which rain or dew has collected all serve as water sources for birds. Some birds even eat snow.
Birds need cover to hide from predators, to protect them from the elements, to nest, and to sleep at night. Birds find cover in a wide variety of places -- in evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, hedges, vines, bramble thickets, brush piles, and cavities in tree trunks; among the dry leaves and twigs on the floor of a forest; in tall grass, meadows, and fields; under rock ledges and the eaves of buildings; and in nesting boxes.
The more of these essentials your yard provides, the more it becomes a haven for birds. And whether you already have a lush landscape or a simple city terrace, there are dozens of things you can do to provide what the birds want. You can make a few basic adjustments, such as putting up a couple of feeders and a birdbath, or you can go so far as to plan your entire home landscape around the needs of birds. It all depends on your own temperament and what you wish to accomplish.
Copyright © 1999 by Round Stone Press, Inc.