Auburn, Alabama — Turning a backyard into a bird sanctuary can be accomplished with a few simple additions. Homeowners often enjoy the sounds of songbirds in the spring and hummingbirds create flits of color as they feed on bright flowers.
According to Alabama Extension Specialist Nancy Loewenstein, consistent food sources are an important element to creating a habitat for birds. Native trees, such as oaks, support the most biological diversity of caterpillars. Shrubs and trees with small fruits, such as blueberry bushes or black cherry trees, are also favorites of adult birds.
“Caterpillars and other insects on the bottom of the food chain are actually the food that baby birds eat,” said Loewenstein. “So to have an ecosystem that supports birds throughout their entire life cycle, not just the pretty birds that come to your feeder. You also need native trees and shrubs.”
Gardeners are often tempted to plant non-native species, such as crepe myrtle and Japanese honeysuckle. These plants, however, are invasive and essentially create a biological desert for native wildlife. They can also inhibit the growth of healthy native flora.
Hummingbirds, a popular bird species, prefer long-stemmed flowers with nectar. According to Loewenstein, plants with red flowers attract bird pollinators and typically have good nectar.
ARTIFICIAL FOOD SOURCES
Feeders easily attract hummingbirds in the spring. A homemade nectar solution made of one part table sugar to four parts warm water is good for food. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, hummingbirds cannot digest honey so don’t use it as a food source.
Extension Specialist Jim Armstrong recommends a mixed bird feed to attract a variety of species if using bird feeders.
“The birds I enjoy watching the most around my bird feeders are goldfinches, tufted titmice and brown-headed nuthatches,” said Armstrong. “More specialized foods can attract certain species.”
Mealworms typically attract bluebirds and goldfinches like black oil sunflower seeds.
Bird feeder locations are also important. Avoid hanging a bird feeder in an open area, as this can expose the birds to predators, excessive heat and a lack of secondary perches. Putting a feeder near trees and shrubs gives birds a place to fly between feedings.
Another important element to creating a sanctuary for birds is housing. Mark Smith, a wildlife Extension specialist, says that a variety of habitat options can attract different species.
“I like to point people not to a specific kind of tree, but a diversity of structures that provide various nesting grounds in their yards,” said Smith. “Most birds want trees, bushes and tall grasses to nest in.”
Smith recommends including tall native grasses in non-lawn areas. Artificial structures can also be beneficial in attracting species such as bluebirds and swallows. A potential problem with birdhouses, however, is the inability to predict what species will take up in the house.
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