Birdwatching Tips: Three Things to Entice Birds

Birdwatching Tips: Three Things to Entice Birds

Garden birds. Courtesy of cdbrphotography, Canva.

Wild birds are fascinating to watch, but catching a glimpse in the world outside your window can take patience and time, something that not all of us necessarily have. Remembering three simple things will increase your chances and help you provide a place for them to hang out regularly.

Creating an environment that is rich with resources for birds can help them survive cold winters, hot summers, and everything in-between. The benefits for you also make it worthwhile, as birdwatching can help lower your heart rate, ease anxiety and enable you to take more time to relax and enjoy nature.

Today we go through the three basic but critical things to consider when setting up an area to entice birds to your home.

1. Water

Where there is life, there needs to be water, but for some reason so many of us forget to put some out, perhaps assuming they get enough in their food somehow or they know of a discreet watering hole nearby. To turn food into energy uses a lot of water, and you can be that discreet watering hole instead.

Where there is life, there needs to be water.

Access to fresh and ample water throughout the year is essential as a lifeline to many creatures, none more so than birds. Water not only slakes thirst but during heatwaves it keeps birds’ core temperatures down – birds actually suffer more in the heat than they do in the cold, and are more likely to die from overheating just by an increase in one or two degrees than freezing by a drop of many.

Blue Jays In Bird Bath
Blue jays In bird bath. Courtesy of Mike's Bird, Wikimedia Commons.

If you have the space and the budget then do think seriously about installing a water feature in your yard; the sound of trickling water is very appealing to all birds, as well as amphibians and small mammals. Everything needs to drink, and given the right placement you should soon see a whole array of animals in a short space of time.

A pond is an excellent way to not only help birds stay hydrated and cool on hot days, but also establish diversity in your garden. A well-designed and maintained pond encourages a wealth of plants to grow, which then brings those invertebrates and insects that are essential to the life cycles of so many organisms, be it aiding decomposition for nutrient rich soils, food for larger animals, and pollination.

Ponds are also an excellent learning aid, where kids (and adults) can learn about the mechanics of ecosystems and hopefully engender an interest in the environment into adulthood.

birds-bath-south-africa-bird-pen
Courtesy of DenisDoukhan, Pixabay.

If putting out any shallow bowls for birds to bathe or drink in, be sure to place a few flat or large stones with enough surface area for a bird to stand on so that they can access the water easily, which will also help any mammals that come by.

Hedgehogs have been known to fall in and drown in bowls that were too deep and that had no exit “beach” area to use to crawl out. Remember that you will always need to clean any receptacles that hold standing water, to avoid mosquito larvae occurring, (although these can be excellent food for many birds), and refresh the water daily.

2. Food

Birds need a constant supply of food, as they burn calories remarkably fast and need to replace that energy quickly. Natural food sources will come from plants and habitats that allow insects and invertebrates the right kind of environment in which to thrive.

Find out the most common types of birds you get in your part of the world.

Plants that provide big seed heads like sunflowers or teasels are wonderful additions to any garden, and tall grasses and wild flowers provide cover as well as food in the form of pollinators dropping by. You can also supplement their daily diet by putting out feeders full of seeds, nuts, cracked corn, fruit and mealworms, even hard cheese.

nature-bird-tit-great-tit-
Courtesy of Oldiefan, Pixabay.

Avoid bread, though – this does have calories but it lacks other essential nutrients and can also go mouldy very quickly.

This may seem obvious, but you will need to do some homework – just putting out any random food can often have the adverse effect of what and who you’re trying to entice.

Certain birds only like certain things, so find out the most common types of birds you get in your part of the world, and then take a look at their specific diet. Simply type “what birds are in my area?” into a search engine and you should see sites like eBird, the UK’s RSPB website, or BirdLife’s Data Zone which allows you to search all regions of the world.

an-alexandrine-parakeet-on-a-clay-pot-with-bird-food
Alexandrine parakeet. Courtesy of Bulat Khamitov, Pexels.

Be aware you may end up inadvertently harming birds by putting out the wrong sort of food, or luring animals that can potentially harm birds. It’s to be expected that you may encourage critters that you aren’t that keen on: after all, birds aren’t the only things that live outdoors.

Just because birds can fly away, doesn’t mean they always escape.

Some people simply don’t want to attract rats, mice, squirrels or other toothy hungry beasts. Ways around this are to be sure to clean up any dropped food, take your feeders in at night, and don’t overfill your feeders in the first place. It will take a bit of monitoring at first, but if you fill a feeder one day and the same food is there a day or two later, then cut back or try another brand or type.

Birds can empty a standard one litre feeder in a few hours, but this will also depend on what’s in it, the time of year and the weather.

Squirrel Stealing Bird Food
Squirrel stealing bird food. Courtesy of JZHunt, Canva.

If you find that four-legged beasties become an issue, you may have to withdraw or re-site your feeders for a few days, or if you don’t mind them coming by, you could try placing another feeder just for them elsewhere away from the birds.

Also – don’t forget to clean your feeders regularly in a 1:10 mild bleach solution, making sure they are bone dry before you put them back out. Remember, feeders are ideal places for a lot of birds to congregate, so check local bird websites regularly to see if there are any known disease warnings, as you may need to take your feeders in for a while until the transmission event passes.

3. Protection

Just because birds can fly away, doesn’t mean they always escape. Birds can fall prey to all sorts of dangers, other birds among them, as well as feral or house cats, martens, weasels, foxes, deer, coyotes, badgers, even snakes and frogs.

There’s a lot for birds to keep a watch out for. Whilst this is often the natural order of things, you can still help them stay safe by providing good cover for them like hedges, bushes, shrubs and trees. All of these will provide sanctuary and potential breeding sites, as well as food and somewhere to roost at night.

Bird-Curious-Peeping-Peek-Hiding-Wildlife
Courtesy of Max Pixel.

These would be their natural defences anyway, but often human habitations have had these things stripped out of them to give us manicured and orderly open, clear spaces. Reintroducing some native plants that can provide a leafy hideaway or perch to survey the land from is very welcome for our feathered pals.

Remembering these three things when considering how to create your bird haven can reap wonderful rewards in very little time. As with all things, it takes practice and some careful observation to see what works and what may not, but birds are great opportunists, and will soon be dropping by for some refreshment and a place to sit awhile, and they may even end up staying for good.

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