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DALY: Attracting birds to your garden

People travel thousands of miles to search for rare and elusive bird species inhabiting exotic locations such as the frigid tundra in Alaska or the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica. However, one does not need to travel long distances in order to observe diverse species of birds as their backyard garden can potentially attract a multitude of bird species.

Birds require food, shelter and water throughout the year. Most birds feed on seeds, small berries, and insects. If they are able to find their basic needs in your yard, they will visit it. Plants that have berries, nuts or fruits will be attractive to birds. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide shelter for them.

Birdfeeders are great, but providing a diversity of plants, especially native plants, are just as good attracting many bird species to your yard. Birds love small trees, such as dogwood, sourwood, sparkleberry, and redbud, as well as shrubs like blueberries, viburnums, and hollies. These plants produce an abundance of seeds and berries for forage. Vines such as Carolina jessamine, Virginia creeper and clematis provide shelter for birds to nest. The ruby-throated hummingbird loves the orange and red flowers of the trumpet creeper vine and coral honeysuckle. Birds do not like to be out in the open, but prefer to be in areas that offer cover. Having a variety of plants in the landscape will provide some protection and security for them.

Birdfeeders are an additional source of food to birds. Feeders come in many varieties. Some are small and hang from a wire; others are larger and are mounted on steel or wooden poles. Suet is simply animal fat mixed with nuts, raisins, peanut butter or dried fruit. Suets are high in calories which provide energy for birds, especially during the colder weather.

Often squirrels will raid the birdfeeder to feast on the food. However, several feeders are designed to be squirrel proof by having a squirrel baffle that prevents them from climbing onto the feeder. You may want to supply the squirrels with some food to their liking, like corn on the cob and nuts. Place these in another part of your yard to divert them away from the bird feeder.

Birds need a source of water. Bird baths are an excellent source of drinking water and a place for them to wash. They come in every imaginable size, shape, and cost. Make sure you change the water every few days, and during warmer weather, drop a few mosquito dunks in it to control any mosquito larvae. Ornamental fish ponds, as well as pans and other containers placed on the ground, can also be a source of water.

Bluebirds, wrens, sparrows, finches and wood peckers are birds that like to build nests in birdhouses. They usually build ones naturally in tree cavities. The species of birds that will build a nest in your birdhouse is partly determined by the type of habitat in your yard. Multiple trees with dense shrubs in the surrounding area will attract the forest-loving birds while open, expansive fields will attract birds that prefer those types of habitats.

Many species of birds are territorial and will not tolerate the presence of other birds. Some birds prefer to have many types of their own kind around them, such as purple martins and tree swallows. Other birds tolerate different species in their territory. Learn about the types of habitats for each species of birds that visit your yard through various resources, such as the National Audubon Society website http://www.audubon.org.

With some understanding of the habitats of birds, you can attract a variety of species to your yard. They can be very entertaining to observe.

Timothy Daly, MS, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with the Gwinnett County Extension. He may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.