Harbingers of Spring! May 07 2010, 0 Comments

Thank you for joining us today with our discussions about our fine feathered friends!

Whether you live in an apartment or a house, you can enjoy the spectacle, the music and the friendship of birds.  A joy to behold, they can transport us to another place, in just one little beat of the heart.

Creating a place that meets the requirements of a bird sanctuary is easy, inexpensive and fun.  The best reward for our effort is a new sense of ‘connection’ to the natural world and the joy of awareness.

In the words of William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure;
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The key to attracting birds is to know their preferences with respect to food, shelter and nesting habits.  Birds also require shade and a sense of security.  A seed-eating chickadee, for example, will seek daisy-like flowers and, of course, sunflower seeds.  Remember if you’re purchasing sunflower seeds, that birds prefer them black-oiled.  This variety has a higher meat-shell ratio, are fatter and they’re easier to crack open.  I like to buy seeds in bulk from my local hardware.  It’s a great way to buy if you don’t want to store excess amounts, spend too much money or if you’re experimenting.  There are as many different kinds of seed as there are of everything else and different seed attracts different birds.  Have some fun, experiment and see who comes to eat at your outdoor diner!

Hummingbirds love the sweet nectar of bee balm flowers or you can mix up your own liquid nectar.  There are lots of hummingbird plants and if you’re creating a bird-friendly habitat from an apartment, you can fix a feeder to your window using suction, hang a feeder from a railing and start a container garden.  Hummingbirds love herbs (like sage, mint and lavender), flowering shrubs, dwarf trees and vines (like honeysuckle).  And remember that these lovely creatures need space to hover and navigate between plants.  You will be enchanted by their aerobatics!  These little wonders can fly in any direction, including backwards, or hover in mid-air and their tiny wings beat up to 80 times a second!  All this whizzing about causes them to burn as many as 12,000 calories a day (wish I could do that).  And this means they must feed almost constantly from sunrise to sunset, visiting as many as a thousand flowers a day!  Hummingbirds don’t have a strong sense of smell so they rely on colour to find their food.  Red is the stand out choice and tubular shapes hold more nectar, so columbine, hollyhock, day lily, lupine, impatiens and petunia are favourite varieties.  Apartment dwellers can dangle hanging pots from balcony railings to attract these magical creatures.

My father always told me to provide refreshing water for all forms of life.  Did you ever see a great big bumblebee edging closer and closer to the surface of water in a bird bath?  Everything needs a drink of water, most especially on a dry, summer day.  Hummingbirds love their water moving, so the fine spray of a sprinkler hose (rain barrel fed, of course!), is great for a bath on the fly!  Get creative with your water receptacles  . . . wander in places where you can buy recycled items to create interesting variations on traditional bird fountains and baths.  Have you seen the price of bird baths lately?  Ridiculous!  You’ll be so delighted when you invent your own!  I’m not kidding about the rain barrel as a source of water.  You know what municipal tap water tastes like with all the bleaches used to kill sources of bacteria.  Ugh.

Feeders are a great source of enjoyment and entertainment.  Please keep in mind that providing a feeder carries a level of commitment to feed your feathered friends.  Don’t start if there’s likelihood that you may not be able to continue feeding.  Birds will over-winter if they know a food source is reliable.  Don’t disappoint your little ones once they’ve established a pattern of visiting you several times a day.

There are four basic types of feeder and each attracts different bird species.  A tray or platform feeder placed 1-3 feet from the ground will cater to ground feeders like juncos, towhees and mourning doves.  Feeders with seed hoppers and perches hung from a tree or mounted on a pole will bring grosbeaks, cardinals and jays.  Long, cylindrical tube feeders suspended in the air will entice small species like finches, nuthatches and chickadees.  Finally, a fruit feeder featuring a fresh smorgasbord will solicit colourful birds like tanagers, orioles and waxwings.  Of course, you can always build or invent your own.  At the tender age of 50 something, I bought a feeder kit at Rona and hammered and screwed and glued until I felt like Mike Holmes and then I painted it too!

Don’t forget that you can be Martha Stewart in the kitchen for your feathered friends.  Suet, the perfect winter diet, features equal portions of any seed or grain mixed with bacon fat, lard or peanut butter.  Place a small batch in a tuna tin to chill or freeze and then release it into a sturdy mesh bag or wire suet cage.  Create gourmet snacks by mixing cornmeal and/or oatmeal with peanut butter and spreading it into holes drilled in a pole.

And if you’re successful in attracting birds to your home and garden, you may decide you’d like them to take up more permanent residence!

Backyard in Town

Prince Edward Birding Festival – May 8 – 16, 2010
Guided bird walks daily at 8:00 a.m.  Evening bird walks too. Birding By Ear Workshop by Terry Sprague
Bird banding demonstrations at the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
Details at:  www.naturestuff.net

Dandelion Gardens Studio Tour – May 22 – 24, 2010 from 10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Discover the work of 29 artisans offered at 9 studios in the beautiful and scenic Westport area Details at: www.artatwork.ca/westport_studiotours