‘Birdscaping’ Your Backyard

06 Aug 2020

Creating private bird B&Bs

By Christine Hall

I have always taken delight in feeding and watching birds move about the yard.  I find it relaxing to observe the feathered wonders search for their favorite seed or berry in the comfort of our home landscape. And I adore the quick problem-solving skills of the neighboring squirrels that zip down and around the pines in our back lot.

As my thoughts turn from summer’s bounty to fall’s stillness, I begin to wonder how the changing landscape will affect our resident birds. My pondering led to a phone call with local experts Jon Davis, proprietor of Wild Birds Unlimited, and Susan Campbell, a park naturalist at Weymouth Woods.

Davis’ store provides Sandhills residents access to expert advice, resources, and supplies for their backyard birding adventures. Susan Campbell’s passion lies in hummingbirds and she has conducted research, bandings, and pollinator bird projects in the Sandhills and across the state for more than 20 years.

Here are some things I learned:

λ If you are nature-minded, chances are you already have a birdfeeder in or around your yard. If you do not own a feeder, chances are that your shrubs, trees, and other foliage are already acting as one. Manmade feeders are an invaluable supplement to a bird’s natural diet. Supplement is the operative word, as birds only default to feeders when they cannot scavenge adequately on their own.

λ While birds may seem less conspicuous this time of year, many are still present, as are their basic needs. There is a common misconception here in the South that the birds we see in our landscape will eventually fly the coop and migrate to warmer grounds. Except for birds such as the Baltimore Oriole and hummingbirds, many birds in our area remain hunkered down right where they are. We just do not see them as much in the winter. Fall does, however, bring migratory species that pass through our neighborhoods looking for sustenance.

λ Birds are competing with squirrels, mice, raccoons, bats, bees, and more for reliable food and drink. In October, November, and December, all are fueling up for the winter, which creates vast competition. Another common misconception is that when birds are feasting on our feeders, it is because they are lazy. Or we may think, “Boy, they have it good!” This is far from true. They are only frequenting your source because they must due to lack of sources in their natural environment. Your feeders are in fact saving the day! Bird feeders are also a natural barometer for measuring dependency and need in our landscapes.

λ Migration season for birds in our region begins in early August and September. We will notice squirrels start burying nuts in hidey-holes and birds feeding on seeds and insects in copious amounts. It is critical to limit pesticide and herbicide applications during this time, as the chemicals wipe out hosts of insects that are critical bird fuel. If you must use pesticides, never spray blooming plants and spray only in late afternoon when bees and birds are less likely to be foraging.

Davis and Campbell insist most any property can be made attractive for birds to ‘overwinter’ in by offering adequate water, shelter, food, and nesting resources.

Creating your own ‘Bird B&B’

λ Employ native plants. Native grasses and plants boost your backyard ecosystem by offering winter fruit, seeds, and an insect all-you-can-eat buffet. It can be as simple as a few shrubs or even one carefully chosen tree. Bountiful catmint, native black-eyed Susans, and purple salvia don the area for the birds at
our home.

λ Leave brush piles. Use any woody vegetation from pruning to form protected areas where birds can nest and feed. Experts recommend holding off on fall clean-up all together, noting that when people trim too early, they remove valuable natural resources that can provide food and shelter through the winter. Leaving perennials and ornamental grasses standing until just before spring does
the trick.

λ Offer fresh water. If you do not own a birdbath heater, never fear. Float a small ping pong ball in the water. Its subtle movement in the breeze will stall freeze. It is said that the sound of running water, such as from a fountain or pond, is a strong attractant for birds and will pull in migrants such as warblers and thrushes.

If you’re inspired to create a haven for wildlife in your own yard, visit
www.wbu.com/certify-your-yard/ where you can view more photos, tips, and even get ‘certified.’ Family-friendly activities can also be found and downloaded at www.wbu.com/kids-activities/. Sandhills residents can also connect with news from Carolina Bird Club (CBC) in Raleigh at www.carolinabirdclub.com or by writing CBC headquarters at 11 West Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27601.

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