Give Them Food
The number of songbirds in any given geographic area is controlled in very large part by the food supply there. The more food that is available in a yard, either as plantings that provide berries and seeds or as seeds and suet in a birdfeeder, the more bird families can be supported nutritionally by that area. Each bird has a territory, or area it considers sacred and birds will often fight to keep others out of it. Yards dense with available food attract more birds because their territories can be smaller. Smaller territories means more birds in the area. If songbirds have a reliable source of food all year round they will remain in the yard. Your songbird population will be larger than that of your neighbor who does not feed the birds.
While it is traditional to put out birdseed for songbirds only in the winter months, there is every reason to continue the practice well into the spring. This is when natural food supplies are at their lowest ebb and supplemental goodies at the birdfeeder 6 61 100 are greatly appreciated. This is also when couples are looking for a place to set up housekeeping and raise their families. Available food will encourage them to settle down on or near your property. Once they move in they will be on the job for pest control when the warmer weather brings insects. Seed-eating birds such as sparrows and finches hunt for insects to feed their young in the spring months when pest insects can be a problem. A single pair of resident sparrows may have three broods of 3 or 4 babies over the season. They harvest a huge number of insects in your yard each year to feed them.
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Give Them Water
The year round availability of fresh water is critical for the survival of songbirds. They are more likely to die from thirst than from starvation during harsh winters in the northern US. Natural water sources such as creeks, streams and puddles freeze over. Even in the heat of summer, songbirds sometimes struggle to find water, as drought dries up puddles, shallow streams and birdbaths. In highly developed suburban areas, fresh water is not often very plentiful or accessible. because it runs off paved areas into storm sewers.
If your property has a natural water source, take the trouble to make it user friendly for birds and other wildlife. Provide rocks or branches as perches at edges of ponds or streams. to improve access by birds. Create “rapids” with stones or gravel at some point in fast-running creeks to slow the water flow and make it more shallow. Add a waterfall feature to your water garden and use a small submersible pump to direct water over shallow rocks. Put out several birdbaths or containers that can catch and hold rainwater. Keep them filled during hot summer months when rainfall is scarce. Most importantly, keep them thawed in the winter by setting them in the sun or using an electric birdbath heater.
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Provide Safe Cover
While it seems that songbirds can fly away easily, they are actually often very vulnerable to predators. They need to have “cover” where they can rest and eat, safe from view of domestic cats and hawks, and find shelter in rain storms. The trees and shrubs on your property provide sanctuary for birds. Interestingly, the particular kinds of trees and shrubs influence the specific kinds of songbirds that visit your yard. Birds that are native to your region of the country will likely be most at home in shrubs and trees that are native to your region too. When in doubt, plant a diversity of plantings, with native plants well represented, and you will please a good number of your local birds.
For more information click here on Choosing Plants To Attract Birds
Appropriate Housing For Songbirds
Certain birds prefer to build their nests exposed to the elements in tree branches or on nesting shelves that you can build and attach to trees and posts for their use. Others prefer to build nests in cavities, seeking out cozy space in old tree trunks, wall, barn rafters and eaves of roofs. These birds will also nest in birdhouses,6 61 200 sometimes called nesting boxes, that we provide in our backyards if they suit their specifications.
While certain country dwellers such as purple martins and bluebirds are notoriously particular about the design of their homes, most songbirds found in suburban areas accept nesting accommodations that are a basic functional design. Be sure the birdhouses you buy or build have hinged roofs for easy cleaning, small holes of only 1 inch or so in diameter and air vents. They should be unpainted inside and without perches in order to deter predators.
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Use Pesticides Judiciously
If you are interested in attracting songbirds to your property because they are beautiful and because they control many of your pest insects, then you may have to modify your choice of chemical pesticides--products that kill pest insects or weeds. These products are powerfully effective on the target pest, but unfortunately they sometimes directly or indirectly affect birds. Birds may sicken from mistaking pesticide granules, such as Diazinon, on lawns for grit and eating them. Or, they may eat an insect that has died from pesticide poisoning. which then sickens or kills the bird.
None of the insecticides recommended in Yardener’s Helper hurts songbirds directly or indirectly if they are used according to label instructions. If you use insecticides other than those recommended, but sure to use them according to the label to avoid harm to your songbirds.