Help our feathered friends: 10 steps to attract and keep birds happy

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By Master Gardener, Brunswick County Extension

By Charlie Spencer 

As the seasons are starting to change, it seems like a good time to consider our feathered friends. Some of our summer visitors will be leaving and new arrivals from the North will be joining us in the next few months. Birds not only make our gardens more beautiful, but they eat lots of pests. Following are 10 tips to help attract and keep birds happy:

•Birds love and need water. A birdbath or other accessible water source will help you attract all kinds of birds. A handy water source will also help prevent birds from eating fruits and vegetables to get the moisture.

•For different types of birds, vary the types of food you offer. Black oil sunflower seeds will attract many seed-eaters (finches, cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks) but birds like indigo buntings often prefer millet. Goldfinches love thistle seed, while woodpeckers adore suet (get the kind that isn’t prone to melting in the sun). Peanut hearts and cracked corn are also good foods. Experiment until you attract the birds you want.

•Remember, some birds feed readily from hanging feeders, but others such as juncos, doves, towhees and cardinals prefer to feed on or near the ground.

•Big birds like blue jays can often scare away smaller birds. The trick is to provide different feeding stations, some with easy access for bigger birds and some with small perches for small birds, so they can all feed comfortably.

•If you are feeding in an open area without surrounding trees or bushes, provide a place for the birds to land and rest and you’ll have more success. Cutting a small (6-8 foot) sapling and sticking it in the ground a few feet away from your feeders will work nicely. It may also help save birds from neighborhood cats.

•Squirrels can scare birds. You can get many designs for “squirrel-proof” feeders, but it is often just as successful to give squirrels a feeder or feeding station of their own placed away from your bird feeders.

•Store your birdseed in a cool dry place – birdseed that gets moldy can be dangerous for the birds.

•Place your feeders where they will be easy to reach and refill in the winter. A location that’s great for you in the summer may not be convenient at all if and when there is snow on the ground.

•Provide nesting boxes and birdhouses to attract nesting pairs; you will get to see parents bringing nesting materials, endlessly feeding the young birds, and then bringing them to the feeders when they’re big enough!

•You can also provide nesting materials for your birds. They like short pieces of thread or string, woodchips, pet fur and pretty much anything else that is stringy or soft. Be sure to clip the pieces so they’re about 2 inches in length. Your friendly feathered friends can’t work with them when they’re too long.

Thanks to Wayside Gardens for their help with this column.

Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Answers may be printed in this column.