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12 Ways to Help Migrating and Nesting Birds

  1. Use native plants: The most important thing you can do to help your feathered visitors is to incorporate as many native Whooping Crane plantings in your yard as possible. Only native plants host the insect abundance required by our migrating and nesting birds. Many birds survive either largely or exclusively on insects, and virtually ALL nesting birds must have insects for their young. These insects provide necessary protein for nestling development. Non-native plants host a fraction of the insects that area supported by native plants.

    **NOTE: Use only plants native to your region. For more information about the relationship between native plants, insects and birds, read Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

    The Whooping Crane pictured at right lives with its mate in a small North American prairie and wetland enclosure at the International Crane Fountation. The rich diversity of fauna supported by these native habitats provides more than half the cranes' nutritional requirements, attesting to the great value of native plants.

  2. Window Crashes According to expert Dr. Daniel Klem, up to a billion birds a year die crashing into windows. This loss is avoidable, go read this article.

  3. Keep your cats indoors! Domestic and feral cars kill many millions of birds annually. The National Wildlife Federation, Keep your cats indoorsAudubon, the American Bird Conservancy, and Saving Birds Thru Habitat are just some of the groups calling for keeping kitty indoors - not just because it saves birds, but also because it is healthier for your pets. For more information click here.

  4. Buy Shade Coffee. Scarlet Tanagers are experiencing a steep population decline. One of the ways to Scarlet Tanager help this species, and others - like warblers - is to purchase shade-grown coffee. Many of the songbirds that breed in North America spend part or all of the winter in shade coffee plantations. Buy shade coffee to further promote healthy habitat.

  5. Plant large trees along the sides and back of your yard: Large trees, such as oaks, maples and conifers, provide stopover sites for warblers, vireos and orioles. Orioles may stay to nest, even in relatively urban areas. Many trees, especially oaks, cherries, and willows, host hundreds of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) larvae which are crucial to a healthy bird population.

  6. Create a thicket: Dense plantings of cedars, serviceberries, dogwoods, viburnams, blackberries and other shrubs and brambles native to your area provide cover, food and nesting sites for a wide variety of birds like buntings, some sparrows and some warblers.

  7. Make a hummingbird garden: Columbine, cardinal flower, blazing star, new England Aster, spotted jewelweed and other native flowers will attract and feed not only hummers but also butterflies.

  8. Provide a water feature: Birds need water and you can meet that need with something as simple as a birdbath made from a shallow planter saucer or as complex as an elaborate waterfall, stream and pond setup. The essential element is to keep the water clean for your feathered visitors. Birds, like humans, pass diseases through unclean feeding and watering places.
  9. Save dead trees: Most owls, a number of ducks, all woodpeckers, nuthatches, bluebirds, titmice, some flycatchers, tree swallows, all chickadees, several wrens and two North American warbler species depend on cavities in dead and dying trees for nest sites. While some of the above species accept artificial nesting boxes, many will not. Leaving standing dead timber that does not threaten life, limb or personal property is essential for those birds. If you have no dead trees, add nest boxes.

  10. Use the TBBH nest box: If you have bluebirds, protect nestlings from predators and death by heat stress by using the Tree Branch Bluebird House.

    Eastern Bluebirds experienced declining populations for decades because of habitat loss and nest site competitionBluebird House with European Starlings and House Sparrows. When people began mounting nest boxes for this beautiful and popular bird, their numbers improved. This is an example of how people can make a positive difference for our nesting bird population. Check out plans for the Tree Branch Bluebird House for the safest and most effective housing for bluebirds.

    Frank Zuern, the Wisconsin "bluebirder" who designed this style, tested the temperature differential between the Tree Branch box and the traditional "upright" style by placing a calibrated temperature probe inside each. His research revealed that the temperature inside the traditional box climbed fifteen degrees above ambient. Thus, if the mercury rises to 92 degrees, the temperature inside the upright box topped out at 107 degrees. At 106 degrees, the eggs will addle (become unviable) or nestlings will die of heat stress like a dog in a car. But temperature in his Tree Branch Bluebird Box, only rose two degrees above ambient. Thus this style prevents nest failure due to heat stress.

  11. Offer nesting material: Place clean pet fur (avoid fur that has been sprayed with parasiticides) in a small suet basket and hang on tree limb for birds to use in nest construction.

    **Note: Avoid lint, string or twine as they do not shed water and can soak the nest after a rain.

  12. mealworm feeding About feeding: Make hummer nectar by using 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Bring solution to full boil, and then offer only small amounts as artificial nectars ferment quickly. Do not add anything to nectar, including food colorings. Never use honey. Do NOT offer commercial hummer foods that often contain chemical preservatives and/or food coloring. Also, do NOT offer jams or jellies to orioles. Yes, the birds love it, but it is unhealthy for them. Keep seed feeders well cleaned and keep seeds fresh. Place feeders near shrubs to provide shelter from avian predators.

Because habitat loss looms so large for those species of birds, amphibians, insects and others that are experiencing population declines, it is essential that we get a handle on those alien plants that are invading what otherwise would be good habitats.

In areas of limited size, such as backyards and other small landscapes, hand pulling or covering unwanted plants can be effective. But when dealing with large spaces, herbiciding is usually warranted.

Audubon magazine’s Editor-at-Large Ted Williams wrote this article about resistance to herbicide use.

WinterberryNative Plant List

Essential information for beginners and experts alike! List includes meadow, damp and woodland plants with instructions for where best to plant for optimal growth.


Photo: Michigan Holly

Grow A Bird Feeder
Click to enlarge.

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