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COLUMN: Create a haven for birds in your backyard

'No matter how small your space, you can add flowers, a birdbath, and small shrubs.'
Charles Schroder
Columnist Charles Schroder

"Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans." — Evo Morales

Nature delights the soul. One of my most memorable moments in gardening was watching 500 or more cedar waxwings landing in my yard to strip berries from our mountain ash tree. Obviously, the tree couldn’t handle all 500, so they took turns in groups of 50 or so, landing on the tree, eating their share, then leaving for the next group.

The song of the robin in early spring, the cheery melody of the chickadee, or the rap-rap-rap of a piliated woodpecker is as entertaining as my favourite music. Of course, the raucous cacophony of magpies reminds me of music I dislike.

One amazing wren set up housekeeping in one of our birdhouses. It had a twig that was three times as long as the diameter of the hole into the birdhouse. Three times it tried to put it in directly, but the hole was too small. Then it twisted its head and poked it in lengthwise. Smart bird!

In our backyard we have seen over 25 species of birds. Some of the less common ones were crossbills, warblers, white crowned sparrows, white throat sparrows, orioles, and Swainson’s thrush. Above our yard, we have seen geese, sandhill cranes, ducks, hawks, and gulls.

Unfortunately, with the continued use of herbicides and pesticides, especially Neonicotinoids, a broad-spectrum pesticide, there are far fewer insects available to feed insect-loving birds, especially songbirds. I am sure many of you have noticed a dramatic decline in songbirds over the past 20 years. We haven’t seen an oriole for over 30 years.

In the city, the probable cause is the desire for lush lawns that are weed free. Many companies that service your lawn use a variety of herbicides and pesticides to keep the lawn looking as perfect as a bride on her wedding day. But they kill valuable food for the birds.

What can one person do? Avoid chemicals on your lawn and other parts of your yard. Plan your yard or balcony to attract birds. No matter how small your space, you can add flowers, a birdbath, and small shrubs.

Provide food for the birds by planting trees and shrubs that provide berries and insects. Shrubs such as cotoneaster, dogwood, blueberry, or saskatoon provide fresh fruit for robins, grosbeaks, blue jays, and wrens.

Grow plants with seeds, such as aster, bachelor button, coneflower, marigold, petunia, phlox, salvia, sedum, sunflower, thyme, zinnia, black-eyed Susan, or cosmos, to attract seed-eating birds such as the nuthatch, house finch, American goldfinch, chickadee, or sparrow.

In the fall, don’t remove plants with seeds; leave them and their seeds for the birds in the winter.

Bright flowers attract hummingbirds.

Put up one or more birdhouses. Each species prefers a specific entrance hole size and height above the ground. You can purchase washers with the desired hole diameter from a bird supply store. 

And don’t forget the bird bath. Water attracts birds to drink and bathe. Remember to keep the water clean, changing it frequently.

And in the summer, don’t forget the hummingbird feeder.

In the winter, stock your bird feeder with their favourite food. Like people, different birds prefer different food. Sunflower seeds for chickadees, nuthatches, crossbills, and blue jays. Peanuts for chickadees, blue jays, and woodpeckers. Suet for nuthatches and woodpeckers. Bird seed for sparrows and finches.

With a little planning, you can make your yard a haven for birds, providing many hours of pleasure watching nature’s beauties. 

Charles Schroder is a St. Albert resident and an avid gardener.

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