bird bath with Acorn woodpecker You enjoy feeding birds and watching them come to your yard, right?  Well, now is the time to create an even better oasis for the birds. Spring is when people (especially those in the northern regions of the U.S.) are crazy to get into their gardens and to get their fingers in the soil. This is when we visit garden centers every weekend and ponder which annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs would look best and do well in our gardens and yards.

Your choices will depend on where you live and the types of birds that are found in your region.  The three most basic needs are food, water and shelter; the same as us.

Let’s start with SHELTER.  Bird’s needs are much less complicated than ours and conifers probably provide the best protection because they hold their ‘leaves’ (needles) throughout the year and they are thick enough to protect against rain, snow and most wind storms.  The best idea is to buy and plant native trees and shrubs – for lots or reasons. First of all, they are most likely to survive and prosper since they have evolved in your particular area. Secondly they are the trees that native insects prefer and almost every bird species needs insects (in one form or another) to feed their nestlings.  A single pair of Black-capped Chickadee’s need as many as 4000 (!) caterpillars to feed their brood. One study showed that caterpillar counts were eight times greater on native versus non-native plants.Blue jay with peanut

The other type of shelter that is really used by birds is a brush pile of some sort.  It doesn’t have to be really big, but when you have a mix of branches, twigs and leaves in a mound, it provides excellent cover and hiding places for small birds. An alternative is to pile up some logs and then plant vines to grow over it.

Next let’s consider WATER.  This can be as simple as a trash can lid sitting on top of an overturned can.  If you want something more aesthetically pleasing there are a never ending variety beautiful bird baths available – at Garden Centers or Art Fairs.  Ponds are the next step up and if you have the space, they are a source of endless entertainment, because all birds will eventually visit them, either to drink or to bathe.  The main thing is to have some rocks or other objects in the water that the birds and smaller critters can use to climb out of, in case they fall into deeper water.  There are heaters available if you want to keep a water source open through the winter months.

Ponds can attract all sorts of special visitors

Ponds can attract all sorts of special visitors

Finally, let’s consider FOOD options.  Here you can combine both natural food plants and countless types of bird feeders and many kinds of birdseed.  Again flowering plants that are native to your region are the best.  We know that all Hummingbirdspecies are attracted to colorful (red or purple) tubular type flowers because of the nectar they hold.  Many of the other flowers may be of more value to birds for the seeds they produce at the end of the season. Baltimore Orioles are known to use the silky white down from last year’s Milkweed plants to line their hanging nests.

But of course we can provide more seed options for the birds, even in the seemingly abundant seasons of spring and summer.  Put up as many feeders as your yard and pocketbook can handle.  Fill them with hul led sunflower seeds or thistle seed.  Experiment and see which seeds attract which birds.

What could be better than a yard filled with blossoms and birds?

By Kate Crowley