While many of us genuinely appreciate the pristine beauty of a winterscape, others are already longing for spring to arrive in Bismarck. That's why backyard birding is one of our favorite activities during this time of year-birds beautify our landscape in the absence of flowers and greenery while also reminding us that the sounds of spring aren't too far away. If you'd like to enjoy the pleasant presence of more birds in your garden, simply provide them with food, shelter, and water. Keep it up, and you'll have them flocking to you all year 'round!
Although they live their entire life outdoors, birds need a safe place to rest just like any other animal. There are many reasons our winged friends might seek shelter-for nesting and laying eggs, for safety from predators, or for warmth during harsh weather. If your property provides an accessible shelter, you'll likely find many more of them in your garden-maybe even a few babies in the spring!
Many of you bird-lovers may already have a birdhouse or two in your garden, and while it's certainly a great idea to leave them there, you may want to consider other forms of shelter, too. Or, at the very least, ensure that your birdhouse is "up to code"!
Nesting animals might avoid birdhouses if they find the area too enclosed-with just one way in and out, they'll be trapped if found by predators, like cats, raccoons, or squirrels. Many more vulnerable species actually prefer nesting platforms instead. Keeping your shelters elevated about 10 feet or higher off the ground will also help to keep them safe.
Birds may also avoid shelters that are brightly colored-even though it might look great in your garden, drawing attention to themselves and their eggs is exactly what they don't want to do. The only exception here is hummingbirds, which adore the color red. Our one native species of hummingbird in North Dakota, called the Ruby-throated hummingbird, is rarely seen outside of the eastern half of the state, so seeing one of these birds in Bismarck isn't all too common!
Remember to clean out your bird houses each year, as these creatures are very unlikely to settle down in an old nest. Nests are usually empty by August. Using protective gloves, remove the nesting material and sanitize the shelter with a 1:9 bleach/water solution.
Aside from birdhouses, trees and shrubs also make great shelters. During the spring and summer, you'll find nests amongst the branches of taller trees where they're safe from most predators. They'll likely seek warmth and shelter from dense, lower-lying trees and shrubs during harsh weather. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, evergreens are an essential source of protection.
Another amenity that birds will seek in your yard is a clean source of water, such as a birdbath, water reservoir, or a fountain. While fluttering around in the water is definitely a bonus on a hot summer day, birdbaths are critical for keeping our feathered friends hydrated.
While water fountains can still function as a water source, they're better suited as a garden decoration. The calmer waters of reservoirs, like ponds, basins, buckets, and birdbaths, are much more enticing. Be careful not to let the water sit completely still, however. Stagnant water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes-and we sure don't need any more of those here in Bismarck. Install a simple water agitator to keep up a calm ripple.
In the winter, when water sources are most scarce, the water in your birdbath will likely freeze over as soon as our cold North Dakota winter arrives. If your birdbath doesn't have a heating option, use a de-icer or keep your water wiggler in place during the winter months, too.
While wild birds can fend for themselves, that doesn't mean they won't pass up the opportunity to feast at your backyard buffet. Setting out food is a great way to attract them to your garden and keep them lingering all year long. This is especially true in the winter when food sources are limited and some species do depend on bird-lovers like us.
With hundreds of different species residing in our state, there's no one perfect feed or feeder that will attract them all. We suggest spreading a few different types of each throughout your property to bring about the widest variety of species. Choose from tube feeders, which are great for smaller species like chickadees and finches, platform or ground feeders that are great for larger species, like blue jays and cardinals, suet feeders for winter birds, special nectar-filled hummingbird feeders, and many other styles.
The same holds true for feed and seed-different species have different preferences. If there's a particular breed you'd really like to see around your house, do a little digging to see what types of food pique their appetite.
Generally, seed mixes will never go astray-especially black oil sunflower seeds, which are pretty popular amongst most species. If you're trying to attract finches, splurge on some nyjer seeds, too. Chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, and mockingbirds like nuts, especially peanuts. Larger, ground-feeding species like jays, doves, and sparrows will flock to your yard for cracked corn. Suet cakes, which are made from beef fat and require special suet feeders, provide energy-dense meals to most winter birds.
Wild birds will appreciate all the beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees in your garden just as much as you do! Plant some of these fowl favorites to draw them to your backyard paradise:
Flowers: Birds especially love seed-bearing flowers, like black-eyed Susans, blanket flowers, coneflowers, coreopsis, cosmos, and sunflowers. Nectar-producing flowers, like milkweed and honeysuckle, also commonly host nectar-hungry insects, attracting insect-eating birds (and nectar-eating birds!) to your garden.
Shrubs: Shrubs with berries, like cranberry, juniper, and winterberry, attract lots of wildlife. Lilac and bee balm are favorites, too-and how can you blame them? They smell fantastic!
Trees: Trees and shrubs provide a safe place for birds to safely stop and rest or to seek shelter. They're especially drawn to birch, dogwood, maple, oak, poplar, and, in the winter, most evergreen species.
This year, decorate your garden with the beauty and grace of birds and other wildlife. Not only are they pleasant to watch and listen to, but they also naturalize your landscape, turning an ordinary backyard into a destination. Visit us at Plant Perfect Garden Center for your birdbaths, feeders, and other birding needs!