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How to attract birds to your yard or garden

by: COURTESY OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY - A rosy checkmallow is an attractive and hardy native plant choice to attract birds to your yard or garden. 
Is your garden as appealing to the birds as it could be?

Having a bird-friendly yard or garden has never been more important — an average of 2.1 million acres each year is converted to residential use, and almost 80 percent of wildlife habitat in the U.S. is privately owned.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birding is the number one sport in America. There are 51.3 million birders in the United States, and it takes only a field guide, a spotting scope with tripod or pair of binoculars to go birding. Many birders put feeders out in their backyards to help our feathered friends, and that's good news. However, if you've been wishing you could attract more birds to your yard or garden, remember that providing adequate cover for nesting and protection is as important as providing food.

Shelter

Birds need shelter from the weather and places to hide from predators. Wooded areas, ground cover, a log pile, shrubs and roosting boxes are all examples of shelter your yard can provide.

For safer movement, birds prefer habitat with vegetation at varying heights. Place low-growing vegetation next to a thicket of shrubs and taller trees. Some birds — like woodpeckers and chickadees — excavate cavities in tree trunks for nesting and roosting. Where natural cavities are hard to find, nest boxes offer these birds a place to raise their young. You can also supply nesting material like yarn or string.

Recent studies show that free-roaming cats limit the survival and reproduction of wild birds in urban and suburban environments. So keep your cat indoors or put a bell on its collar.

Food: try native plants and wildflowers

by: COURTESY OF OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY - The red flowering currant is another good plant to lure birds to your property. When it comes to helping out the birds, a good place to start is with a reliable food source in the form of native plants or trees. Planting native plants, shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide foliage, especially seed- and fruit-producing plants; native plants also require less watering.

Consider planting shrubs like snowberry, twinberry or serviceberry to provide fruit throughout the seasons. If your yard contains cone flower or black-eyed susans, don't deadhead them but let the seeds remain on the plant through the fall and winter to keep goldfinches and other seed-eaters around. Offer hummingbirds the standard mixture of four parts water to one part sugar.

Wildflowers are an important wildlife food source and produce an abundant supply of seeds. If you don't already have one, you can also install a bird feeder. Black oil sunflower seeds are the best for attracting songbirds — stock a tubular feeder with it, and watch the birds flock in. Birds can become ill from leftover bits of seeds and hulls that become moldy, so clean your feeders about once every two weeks in hot, soapy water. Remember to rake the ground below your feeder to prevent accumulation of molds or waste.

Water

It can be difficult for birds to find water at certain times of the year, so providing a source of water also becomes important. If your budget allows, consider adding a fountain or other water feature to your yard or garden. Ponds, small streams, rain gardens and birdbaths are all helpful water sources for birds. The sound of moving water, including the noise generated by so-called “garden bubblers” seen at many home improvement stores, works wonders. Birds see and hear the water from great distances and many curious species may come to investigate.

Forested property in the interface

If you’re lucky enough to own forested property in the urban-interface (the area where developed areas meet forestland), you’ll want your woodlands to have as diverse a forest structure as possible to provide better nesting opportunities for birds. Different tree species, tree heights and spacing are all important.

A standing dead tree — as long as it doesn’t pose a safety hazard to people — will be a haven for cavity nesters like woodpeckers. Be mindful of invasive species on your property and work to curtail them, and whenever possible, use a native grass mix alongside any road projects.

More bird-friendly ideas

For urban dwellers, reducing the amount of lawn in your yard or garden is another positive step you can take to enhance the ecosystem values your landscape provides. Also, avoid spraying pesticides, and avoid having a totally manicured garden. Try leaving some areas on your property "wild," where grass and native, non-invasive weeds can grow undisturbed.

If you follow most of the tips here, you'll be well on your way to making your yard eligible for "Certified Wildlife Habitat" by the National Wildlife Federation. For more information about this, visit www.nwf.org/.

Finally, enlist your kids or your spouse to help you make your yard or garden more bird-friendly. Attracting birds is a great way to introduce young people to nature — and, it's something the whole family can share and enjoy during these outdoor-friendly months.

For more information: Audubon.org

Cynthia Orlando has a degree in forest management, and is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.