February is National Bird Feeding Month. Probably because in most areas of the country, it's the middle of winter and food for the birds is at an annual low. However, here in Georgia, spring is just around the corner, which I am reminded of as I watch the bluebird house from my kitchen window.
Every year around Valentine's Day the bluebirds begin their search for a shelter to raise their chicks. First, the male bluebird perches himself near or on the house. Then he moves off to the side and sits on the fence nearby while the female peeks inside. Sometimes she even goes inside and has a look around. When she comes back out, the two fly off to look at the next potential house. It always fascinates me! And I know it's always a sign that spring is on it's way.
I love to teach our children about the beauty of nature all around us! Bird watching is a great way to inspire your children to love nature and wildlife. And the great thing about it is that you can bird watch anywhere - your backyard, a local park or nature preserve, even from inside your house!
Below are five ways to get your yard bird-friendly, and keep them coming back all year round.
1. Choose Plants that Provide Food for Birds
Birds love seeds and berries! Planting blueberries, American beautyberry, and sunflowers is a good way to provide birds with a natural food source. Georgia plants that provide a winter food source include holly, viburnum and juniper. Hummingbirds enjoy the nectar of flowers, like honeysuckle, sage, and lobelia. I've even seen hummingbirds frequent my knockout roses. For a handy tool, check out the Audubon Society's free online site that helps you find bird-friendly, native plants by entering your zip code. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources also has a list of plants that attract birds.
2. Choose the Right Bird Feeder
If you have an apartment or don't want to deal with caring for plants, purchasing a bird feeder is a great option! But not all birds like hanging feeders. Sparrows and chickadees prefer to eat from flat surfaces or the ground, while finches and birds that feed among the trees go for the hanging feeders. Decide what birds you want to attract and purchase a feeder for that type of bird. Generally speaking, avoid spreading seed directly on the ground because the seed will mold easily and make the birds sick - not to mention that it attracts pests! If you decide to hang suet, be sure to use it only during colder weather since it melts and could rot easily. In fact, some experts recommend only feeding birds, other than hummingbirds between autumn and April 1.
3. Choose the Right Bird Food
The type of food you provide will determine the type of birds that visit your yard. If you want to attract hummingbirds, provide plant nectar or a prepared sugar solution. Woodpeckers, Titmice, and chickadees like sunflower seeds. And suet is pretty versatile, attracting nuthatches, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and even sometimes cardinals.
4. Choose the Right Bird House (Nest Box)
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the best nesting boxes have 1) Thick walls constructed of untreated wood for insulation; 2) Holes for ventilation and drainage; 3) An extended and sloped roof to keep out the rain; 4) A predator guard to keep out raccoons, snakes, house cats and other predators that steal eggs and chicks. Additionally, you'll want to get the right size house. For example, it's recommended that bluebird houses are 5-1/2"w x 5-1/2"d x 9"h. Nest Watch from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has nest box dimensions for different birds, plans if you'd like to make your own bird house, and even how to install a camera!
5. Choose Plants that Provide Shelter for Birds
Not all birds nest their young in houses. If you want to go the natural route, the University of Georgia suggests that you add evergreen trees and bushes to your landscaping. Some plants that are classified as evergreen and are listed on UGA's webiste include viburnum, pyracantha, Japanese yew, holly and wax myrtle.
6. Add a Bird Bath
Birds need water too! The water source should be only 2 to 3 inches deep. Keep it off the ground to protect birds from predators like cats. Birds often enjoy drinking and bathing in the same water source so be sure to replace the water every few days. Keep water available all year round, even in the winter.
Implementing just one of these suggestions will attract more birds to your yard. By fostering an appreciation for nature in your children, you are giving them a gift that will last a lifetime.
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