Did you know bird watching is the second most popular pastime in North America, second only to gardening?

I can enjoy watching the birds flitting through a clump of bamboo and a vine-covered archway leading to the front door. Right now, chickadees are most abundant, but wrens, towhees and sparrows visit throughout the day. In spring, early robins visit, looking for worms and the first strawberries.

bird watching sparrows

How to encourage bird visitors

It’s easy to integrate bird watching into your yard by adding a few plants that supply food to birds. Sunflowers are beautiful and cheery, and by fall they supply seeds for many visiting birds. Coneflowers, rudbeckia, marigolds and asters supply seeds for foraging birds. Let the spent blooms stay on the plants throughout winter to supply birds with food.

flowers for bird seed

If you have room in your yard, plant some berry producing shrubs to entice birds. This article lists 10 of the best shrubs to attract birds and supply them with fall and winter food.

Berries birds love
Some berries birds love are mountain ash, elderberries, red choke cherries and pyracanthus.
  • Start by noticing which birds are local to your area. Are there some that stay throughout fall and winter?
  • Are there others that winter in your area, but go elsewhere during the summer breeding season?
  • Find out what type of food your feathered visitors prefer and require to stay healthy.
  • Plan to supplement the natural food – seed heads and berries and insects – with bird feeders.
Squirrel proof bird feeders
Squirrels are persistent seed thieves. Choose squirrel-proof feeders if you are in an area with a squirrel population.

Tips for bird watching success

  1. Place bird feeders where they can easily be filled and cleaned. If you like to make your own, here’s a design for making a large bird feeder from wood. http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/free-bird-feeder-plans.html.
  2. Install feeders at least ten feet from trees and fences so squirrels and cats can’t jump onto them. They should be in an open area so birds can see approaching danger in time to fly off. Here’s a squirrel proof bird feeder that will last for many years of bird watching enjoyment.
  3. Make sure you locate bird feeders where it is easy to clean the area beneath them of scattered seeds and bird droppings. Scattered seeds – and there will be many – will attract mice and rats. If you’re in an area where these rodents are a potential problem, place your feeders well away from buildings where these pests may find egress.
  4. If possible, place the feeders where they are visible from indoors so you can enjoy the activity they will attract. Put decals on windows nearby so reflections of nature are broken up, discouraging the birds from flying into the window.
  5. Hummingbirds are territorial, so if you want to attract more than one or two, place several feeders in different locations.
  6. Keep your bird feeders clean. If the seeds get wet, or mixed with droppings, clean and disinfect the feeder and relocate it to a drier spot. Wet seeds get moldy and can cause infections. Clean away dropped seeds before they get damp and sprout.
  7. Clean hummingbird feeders at least twice a week in warm weather or each time your refill it. Fill only to the half-way mark, so that you must refill often. Do not use harsh detergents – hot water and a bottle brush are sufficient.
  8. When cleaning bird feeders that are stocked with seeds, clean them with a mild bleach solution and rinse well. Dry the feeder thoroughly before refilling it.

birdwatching at bird feeders

What is the best bird feed?

Wild bird seed, available in many locations, is often a mix designed for a variety of different birds. Since some birds are more aggressive than others, if you use non-selective seed mixes you should have more than one feeder. This is so the less aggressive birds will have access to some of the food.

You will find, however, that there is more seed dropped and scattered, since birds will scratch to find the seeds they prefer in the mix. Buy your mixed seed from a specialized bird feed store or a feed store, not cheap mixes that may contain junk seeds.

Alternatively, set up selective feeders, with just one type of food in each. Waste will be reduced, and each variety of bird will enjoy their preferred food without being bothered by other birds.

Black oil sunflower seeds are preferred by many birds, so make sure you have at least one or two feeders with this seed. Peanuts are another favorite, and can be either shelled or unshelled. Larger birds like jays, woodpeckers and ravens have no problem shelling them.

Overwintering birds require fats for energy, and some prefer to get it from suet. Get some suet from your butcher – or it may be available in a bird feed store – and hang it from a branch. Chickadees, woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and wrens all are attracted to suet. Place it near the tree trunk, since most of the birds that prefer suet are ones that cling to tree trunks.

home made bird seed suet balls
Suet balls studded with seeds and nuts are a healthy food for many over-wintering birds

Come up with your own homemade treats for overwintering birds. Spread peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke peanut bits or sunflower seeds into it. Make your own suet based treats by liquefying beef or lamb fat and adding bits of peanuts, fruit or sunflower seeds. Allow it to harden, and hang it in a mesh onion bag or easy-to-get-at wire container.

Once you’ve started bird watching in your yard, you’ll soon expand your interest in birds to wider horizons. Check local walks and trails, see if your area has a birding club, or grab a camera and head to tidal areas. Birds are everywhere, and can be endlessly fascinating to watch.

Note: All photos courtesy of Pixabay.

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About the Author

Nicki is a dedicated gardener, a creative artist and a published author. Passionate about what she does, her gardening articles, books and paintings reveal her love of nature and the western Canadian scene. She loves sharing her container garden success with others to inspire their creativity.

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