For the Birds: What Birds Need

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spotted Towhee taking grub to nestling
Photo by Christine Southwick
By Christine Southwick

Birds have four basic needs to survive:
  • Food;
  • Water;
  • Safe spaces to hang out; and
  • Places to successfully raise their young.

Food is fairly easy to provide. Plant, or keep, native trees, especially evergreens—the bigger the better. Plant native fruiting trees and bushes. Dogwood, Crabapple, Hawthorne, Serviceberry, Snowberry, Twinberry, Elderberry, Nine Bark, Quince, berry crops, and even many of the maples are good sources of food. 

Many birds eat the bugs that come to the flowers, some even nibble the flower buds; eat the fruit once it is ripe; and find bugs in the leaf litter in the winter. 

Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker on dripper
Photo by Christine Southwick
Don’t use pesticides: you will kill or starve the bug-eating wildlife. Bird feeders with black-oil sunflower seeds, and suet feeders will make your yard even more inviting.

Water can be hard for birds to find during our dry August’s and our cold spells. Free running water is a great magnet, and can be as simple as a dripper into a garbage can lid, or as complex as a recycling stream. As long as standing water is changed once a week, there is no danger from mosquitoes. In the winter, invest in a birdbath heater to keep the water liquid and drinkable during freezing spells

Safe spaces to hang out can be provided by trees, bushes and shrubs of varying sizes and densities, and minimum amounts of grass. Birds have evolved by being able to locate food: some find it on branches, others on trunks. Some find it using trees and shrubs as launching posts-others find their food in the leaves and bark beneath trees and bushes.

Dead snag in park
Photo by Christine Southwick
Places to successfully raise their young can require a little more planning. 

Dead trees can provide more places for birds to raise their young than live trees. If you have a dead or dying tree, make it into a snag. Leaving logs and branches on the ground will provide hiding places for ground nesters. 

Placing nest boxes, with the correct sized holes for native species will benefit local birds, and bring you the wonder of watching babies grow and thrive. Leave a small, controlled area of blackberries, or add a brush pile in a back corner. Leave some tall grass or weeds from March until Labor Day.

And build an indoor-outdoor run for your cats — belling them isn’t enough — they hunt by stealth.

Give birds what they need, and they will come.

Christine Southwick will be a speaker at the upcoming Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds on September 10, 2011. Her topic is "20 Birds You Wish Were in Your Yard," The entire event covers September 9-11, with more speakers, guided walks and field trips, exhibits, and kids activities. See the detailed schedule on the website.


Anonymous,  September 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM  

My neighbors think it's "cute" when their cat catches birds.

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