Backyard Birding


Backyard BirdingOf all our native wildlife, birds have to be the most prevalent and the most interesting.  Just the fact that they can fly, something that we humans cannot do anywhere near as easily, makes them intriguing to a wide variety of people.

Bringing them closer to us can be accomplished in any type of home. 

Like ourselves, birds have basic needs—food, water and shelter.  All of these can be found in nature but providing them to our feathered friends can make it easier for them. 

Shelter or habitat varies for different species of birds. A mix of evergreen and deciduous trees increases the kinds of birds that might use the area.  Bushy plants and flowers that bear food in various seasons are a very important food source.  Summer fruits like raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are favorite early treats.    Chokecherries, grapes and sunflower seeds ripen later in the summer. Although both berries and seeds are widely eaten, many birds are on the lookout for insects of many different types.    If your yard does not already have the kind of plantings that attract birds, you can add them.   If that is not an option then your efforts might be directed to providing food and water.

A large number of people try to attract birds with bird feeders but fewer provide a reliable source of water.  Birds drink water and they also bathe in it.  Bird baths can be very simple or they can be very elaborate.  The most important thing is to keep them clean and filled.  A flat saucer that is not very deep might need to be cleaned and filled daily.  A recirculating pond or waterfall is more expensive and takes up more room but requires less upkeep. Planter saucers and even garbage can lids have been used successfully.   If the object is to enjoy the activities of the birds, then any birdbaths would need to be situated where they are in view.  Naturally a garden pool might attract a wider variety and quantity of birds as would adding running water. Starting with a simpler plan and then going more complex might be wise.

Even birds not attracted to bird feeders may come to a yard that provides water.  A source of water less than a foot across would probably only be used to drink.  Most birdbaths are two to three feet across but not deeper than 3 inches in the middle with a gradual slope.  A rougher surface is preferred for safety.  Placing the bath directly on the ground, hanging it or standing are all good options.  One thing to consider is location and making it possible for the birds to quickly exit the water and fly to a safe spot if a predator arrives. Plantings that might conceal predators should also not be nearby.

Feeding the birds has become a huge enterprise and is a wonderfully easy way to attract birds to an area where you can enjoy them.  Most feeders are designed for seeds and they vary from small seed feeders like thistle or niger to  larger feedres used for sunflower and birdseed mixtures that appeal to a variety of birds.  Most of the common backyard birds are fond of sunflower seeds.    McHenry County  birds are also very attracted to suet.  This is particularly true of the woodpeckers although other birds will also eat suet.  Nuts are an excellent bird food as they are high in nutrition.  Unfortunately, they are also more expensive than seeds.  Some of the most colorful summer visitors like orioles, tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, which are only present in the summer, are attracted by offerings of fruit such as orange halves and other sweet fruits.  You can impale oranges and fruits on a small stick or nail in lieu of purchasing a commercial holder. Grape jelly is inexpensive, can be placed in a small dish, and attracts a wide variety of birds.


BirdfeederAn important consideration in selecting a feeder is keeping it from being used by squirrels instead of the birds.  There are many types from which to choose.  Placement is also important.  You might like to try several spots to see which is most effective but once decided upon, it is a good idea to keep the feeder in the same place as that is where the birds will be looking for it.  Multiple feeders in some proximity helps to lessen the possibility of more aggressive birds dominating the feeding.


One particular bird, the hummingbird, has its own specific requirements.  They are attracted to the color red and they are searching for nectar. Hummingbirds will eat from anything with nectar in it, but they must be able to find it.  Most hummingbird feeders have red on them because the birds seem to be more attracted to red than to other colors. If your feeder does not have red on it, don’t worry.  Just tie a piece of bright red ribbon or nursery tape on it to attract them.  They will explore around and find the nectar once they discover the feeder. A feeding solution in a hummingbird only feeder is to add one part sugar to 4 parts of boiling water and letting it cool.  Store this mixture in the refrigerator.  This type of feeder needs to be emptied and cleaned often to prohibit mold growth.  Clean weekly in cooler months and as much as every few days in hot months.

Nesting is why we have our spring and summer resident birds.  Some of them are cavity nesters.  If there is a dead tree standing and especially if it has a hole already in it, it would most likely be used by one of the many cavity nesters. If the dead tree does not pose a hazard, leave it and you may be rewarded with woodpecker taking up residence.   Birdhouses are substitutes for natural cavities and will often be used by wrens, bluebirds as well as black-capped chickadees.   Most of the other birds build nests in trees or shrubs and some even are ground nesters!  Some use dead grasses and others use mud and grass and other materials they might find sometimes even including yarn and material that they happen to see. A fun project for young children is to fill a suet feeder with scraps of yarn and material, hang in the yard, and watch the birds take back to their nest.

It is no wonder that interacting with birds is an increasingly popular pastime.  Provide them with shelter, water, and food and your backyard will be a bird oasis!