Creating a habitat for birds in the backyard in five easy steps

By Lynette L. Walther | Jun 16, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther A bird feeder should be high enough off the ground to protect birds from predators like cats that might be prowling about. It is safest for wildlife and cats to keep house cats indoors always.

There was a huge sour cherry tree in my grandmother’s yard. Every summer she would harvest, and then can, quart after quart of tart cherries that would eventually be transformed into her signature cherry pies. Those pies! Those cherry pies will remain one of the most cherished memories of my childhood — well those, along with the grandmother who made them, of course.

I can still picture those pale aqua quart jars, filled with sour cherries and lined up in a pie safe she kept on her sunporch. Those cherries were the best. We loved them, and the birds loved them, too. Some years it was a race to see who’d get the cherries first. One summer, I remember my older cousin Paul Allen (yeah, to this day we still call him by both his first and middle names) got a slingshot, and decided he was going to guard the cherry tree. Paul Allen shot a robin that was gorging himself drunk on Grandmother Reba’s sour cherries. Oh, the horror! Yes, he did. Paul Allen shot Robin Redbreast, and to this day he has yet to live down that transgression.

But in Paul Allen’s defense, we have to remember that planting and planning to attract birds to the yard was the last thing folks did back then. Yeah, concrete birdbaths on pedestals were the norm, and I suppose one or two kept bird feeders out. But by and large, birds were not something people worked to attract. I can recall the unflattering portrayals of “birdwatchers” in TV sitcoms and films, the gawky female clad in a khaki safari outfit, clunky horn-rimmed glasses, bulky Oxfords and with a pair of binoculars slung round her neck. What a schmuck! And even though we were all appalled at the slingshot murder of the poor robin who thought he’d found the motherlode of cherries, fact was, back then appreciation of birds was just not cool.

But here we are in the year 2017, and a lot has changed since those days. Thankfully so! Today gardeners are attracting birds because they realize that birds do more good than harm by gobbling up insects that could attack their vegetables. And bird-watching has become a national pastime that claims some 60 million participants and generates $20 billion every year for birdwatching travel, as well as equipment and seed to attract birds. Gardeners and others have discovered the joys and benefits of attracting birds to their yards.

There’s the life, the movement, the color and their antics, not to mention that birds consume insects and huge quantities of weed seeds that plague us. Some birds, like hummingbirds for instance, are considered valuable pollinators, as well as consumers of insects like mosquitoes. Not all birds are seed-eaters, but all birds bring so much to our landscapes throughout the seasons. Birds have become a big deal. Sadly, in many cases, numbers of birds are declining because of habitat loss, pesticides, predators and other factors.

However, there good things anyone can do to help reverse the losses. The experts on all things bird, the Audubon Society, offers these five tips for attracting birds to your yard with an inviting environment:

1. Make your yard an oasis for birds.

Provide birds with clean water, food and cover. Hang a feeder, build a brush pile, provide perching spots, create a birdbath or fill the garden with native plants. The birds will come and stay. The bonus is backyard visitors who bring color, song, and wonder.

2. Become a scientist.

You can become a citizen scientist by participating in programs such as the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and Hummingbirds at Home. This enables your observations to become part of Audubon’s effort to understand how birds are faring and your participation also helps to inform and shape Audubon’s bird-saving work.

3. Create communities.

Share your passion for and knowledge of birds to inspire new bird-lovers. Then take it to the next level by joining or starting conservation programs where you live. Everything you do to take part in a bird-friendly community pays off for everyone. Eliminate the use of pesticides. No bugs, no birds.

4. Be the voice for birds.

Speak up for birds, because you care about them. Birds can’t sign petitions, contact their representatives or vote, but you can. It is easy to participate in Audubon’s advocacy efforts by simply signing up for the organization’s periodic action alerts. You will be alerted when there’s a chance to lend your voice to benefit birds.

5. Keep cats inside.

Kitty may want to roam free, but when she gets outside her natural instincts kick in and she becomes a well-fed predator of birds and other wildlife in your backyard. Unlike natural predators, such as hawks, foxes or owls, for instance, which hunt to survive and feed their young, house cats hunt for sport. Your cat impacts not only birds and small wildlife populations, but its hunting takes food away from natural predators. Audubon estimates that up to 3.7 million birds a year are killed by America’s cats that are allowed to roam free. Keep your cat indoors, where it can watch wildlife safely from a windowsill — not only is it better for the birds, but it is safer for your pet as well.

No one is saying that saving birds is a quick and easy job. It takes time, passion and determination. It is, however, an effort worth sharing, and every simple act each of us takes is an important part of the bigger picture. We can make ours a better world for birds, and we can do it together.

If you are attracting wildlife and birds, be sure to keep the kitty cat indoors. That’s the best way to insure the safety of birds and wildlife -- and kitty, too. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
When an inviting environment is established, all manner of wildlife is sure to come as well, like this little frog that helps by consuming insects. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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