Birds will reward you for providing food and water

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2008

By Sue Davis
Master Gardener Volunteer
Cardinals, blue jays, blue birds, finches, wrens and doves are among the birds enjoying the food from plants and feeders in backyards throughout Rowan County.
With a minimum of effort you can attract birds to your yard by providing three things: food, water and shelter.
If you did not clear your beds, borders and gardens of seed pods and flower heads ripe with seeds this fall, you already have the environment that both seed-eating birds and ground-feeding birds are attracted to.
If you did compost your spent plants and still want to encourage birds to your yard, you may want to invest in a small feeding station.
Birds enjoy the seeds from blanket flowers, cone flowers, golden rod and marigolds, thistle and sunflowers. By leaving a solid cover of leaves and plants that are naturally decaying, you are encouraging ground-feeding birds that eat insects to the yard, as well.Wrens, phoebes and thrashers will feast in your yard as long as there are insects to be found. To protect ground-feeding birds, it is important to provide sheltered areas like small bushes and nearby trees where they may take flight from cats, raptors and other predators.
If you do decide to hang a feeder, select one that can be hung from a tree limb or on a crook-neck pole near a shelter area. The most important factor in placing a feeder is placing it where you can enjoy the show the birds provide.
Selecting seed for birds is not complicated. When you select seed mixes, consider the season when the seed will be used. In winter, select a seed type that is high in fat to help the birds stay warm. Now is a good time to buy a suet cake or make a peanut butter treat to supplement the birds’ diet.A peanut butter treat is made of a mix one part peanut butter and five parts cornmeal. This mixture can be stuffed in the crevices of pine cones or in a stick drilled with multiple holes and hung from a limb. Remember to remove the fatty treats when the temperature warms because they become rancid.
Change the seed selection as the seasons change to match the bird’s natural diet. During spring, sunflower seeds, mixed with millet, should bring a steady flight of small-beaked feeders like sparrows and towhees and ground feeders like blue jays and bluebirds.
You may decide not to feed the birds in summer and early fall when nature provides ample food for the birds. No matter what the season, you should provide the birds at least one fresh water source in your yard.
Water is important for birds’ diet and well being. On the recent warm days, the birdbath outside our window had five bluebirds bathing and playing in the water. On the coldest mornings the water is frozen, but as soon the sun begins to warm it up, birds are there drinking and enjoying the warmth.
Placing a bird bath in a grouping of low shrubs or under a tree may mean extra work to keep it clear of leaves and debris, but you will find endless flights of birds to a clean, safe water source.
When you provide food, water and shelter to birds, you will need to keep the feeders and water source clean. The effort you give to feeding the birds will be repaid in the delight you will get from having the birds come to your yard.
Sue Davis is a Master Gardener Volunteer, class of 2006, with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.