Attracting Beautiful Birds
Delightful birds - bluebirds (blue and peach or blue on blue), cardinals (red), goldfinches (yellow), titmice (grey and white), and chickadees (black and white) will soon become your favorite neighbors if you set up feeders for them. Water will attract birds that don't eat seeds at feeders.
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Birds can't resist food at a feeder. They all need water. Not all bird species will eat at a feeder. Eagles have been seen hunting at fish ponds in backyards, but you can't count on such an event. They also won't visit a traditional bird feeder to eat seeds.
However, unfortunately, you may attract hawks to dine on your birds and chipmunks. It's not a good sign if you actually see a hawk. So feeders should be placed near the shelter of trees and bushes for a quick escape.
It may take a few weeks for your birds to find out you have food in an enclosed feeder. They usually find it by accident. If you use a tray without a cover, the birds, the squirrels and the chipmunks will quickly find the food.
A feeder can be as simple as a clean milk carton with holes in the sides. Just allow an inch or two below the holes on the sides of the container for sides to contain the food. Leave the top on the carton and open some drainage holes in the bottom. Put out a new clean carton occasionally. This is a good project for children. The size of the openings on the sides will determine which size and species of birds that can use the feeder. Chickadees and titmice will dart in and out of the carton all day long. Cardinals usually sit, sometimes in pairs, on the edge and munch for a few minutes at a time.
Bluebirds are charming, delightful, gorgeous and "happy". They have an angelic expression, their eyes light up with the joy of raising a family (or two). You will never forget the experience of spending a few weeks with them while they are nesting and raising their young.
Bluebird food consists of bugs and berries but they have been seen rarely at bird feeders eating raisins, chopped grapes, cooked apple pieces, peanut hearts, sunflower chips (without the shells), suet, peanut butter-corn meal mixes, currants, bread, doughnuts, and commercial "bluebird nuggets". Special feeders are available that only allow entry to small birds.
Bluebirds love pokeberries, dogwood berries, crabapples, and many other wild and cultivated berries. You can easily plant bushes once that require no additional care, but will produce large quantities of foods every year for your birds. Bluebirds are most easily attracted to your yard by putting up a nestbox designed for them with a doorway opening that is no larger than 1.5 inches.
Nestboxes, mealworms and commerical "bluebird nuggets" are available for purchase at special bird food stores. Recipes for home made foods for a very low cost using lard and corn meal are available on many web sites, such as the North American Bluebird Society (NABS). Offering food is usually an effective strategy to get small birds to nest in your yard.
If there are other bluebird houses in your neighborhood, the food could be the deal breaker when the bluebirds decide on their home.
NABS has very thorough and high quality information about attracting and caring for bluebirds, such as how to set up multiple nestboxes (bluebird trails), excellent foods - berry producing plants, and bluebird food recipes.
A great family project would be "making a birdhouse" or two or three. Instructions and design plans are available on the NABS website and other sites for building your own birdhouse. A small piece of wood can easily be cut into 6 pieces and nailed together to form a small birdhouse that several species of birds will love. There are size requirements to provide the right amount of space and to make the entrance small enough to keep out larger birds. The floor must be at least 4 inches x 4 inches with an opening of 1.5 inches. There should be a couple small drainage holes in the bottom to keep water from accumulating around the nest. The house should be about 4-5 feet off the ground, either on a pole or nailed to a tree. Some bluebirds will nest on a fence post just a few feet off the ground so height is not always a factor. Open fields are premium bluebird habitat, but they will nest in areas with houses and open yards.
More than one birdhouse may be needed if you have competition for the house by other bird species. Your chances of success increase as you put up additional birdhouses. Bluebirds may nest in any birdhouse or natural cavity that appeals to them, and pass up a "perfectly designed" new home.
Imagine the excitement of seeing birds moving into your birdhouse. In three or four weeks you can have baby birds hatching and then fledging (flying) 15 - 17 days later. They start nesting in early spring, sometimes beginning in March, depending on the weather and your location. Binoculars are a very good investment to see their eyes, faces and feathers because birds are so small.
Almost nothing is more interesting than a live "bird cam", which can be found searching Yahoo or Google for information on "live" nest cameras. You can now watch many species of birds incubating their eggs and then feeding their tiny chicks (nestlings) up until the chicks leave (fledge) the nest, even owls, peregrine falcons and eagles. You can watch the chicks practice flapping their wings before they leave the nest.
More Beautiful Birds
Safflower seeds will attract bright red cardinals, exuberant chickadees and titmice, without attracting most squirrels, although it seems like there is always one squirrel who will like the taste.
Chickadees and titmice may nest in manmade bird houses.
The best ever bird food of all time that will attract the most birds, both desirable and undesirable, is sunflower seeds. Cardinals, chickadees and titmice love them with or without the shells. Sparrows and doves arrive in groups which make bird watching fun for children who are impatient to see a lot of birds, but are heavy eaters. Goldfinches will eat the sunflower chips (without the shells).
Bluebirds and bluejays only rarely, if ever, eat sunflower seeds or chips. Bluejays love peanuts and some bluebirds will eat peanut chips. Chickadees and titmice also love peanut chips.
Sunflower seeds and peanuts will attract squirrels, which many people really enjoy. For everyone else, squirrels can be discouraged, but not usually eliminated, by special placement on poles and specially made feeders. Feeders made inside of wire mesh and feeders on poles with cone baffles under them, set away from trees, are good deterents.
Special Havaheart traps are available which will allow you to relocate the squirrels without harming them. It can be a daily activity, since the feeders will attract every squirrel in the area. The smell of food is windborne.
Some feeders are specially constructed to keep the food out of reach of squirrels and large birds, but unfortunately also out of reach of cardinals. The cardinals look very dejected trying to feed on the sunflower seeds that are unreachable.
Sunflower seeds can be homegrown on stunning gold and black flowers for a cost of pennies. Bird food of all kinds can be purchased in most grocery stores, hardware stores, farming supply stores, bird specialty stores or over the internet.
Special feeders are available for goldfinches, which allow them to eat hanging upside down from perches. Undesirable house sparrows cannot eat upside down. House sparrows have been known to attack and kill bluebirds to take over a nestbox. They are a non-native species and should not be allowed to nest in your nestbox. Long, thin strips of plastic, attached to the birdhouse roof, blowing in the wind will usually frighten them away.
Sunflower chips (without the shells) will attract goldfinches to your yard in addition to the other birds. The cost of sunflower chips is higher per pound but there are no mounds of shells to clean up, so the cost of the edible food is fairly close. Goldfinches are quickly attracted to thistle seeds using special special tube feeders to keep the seeds from blowing away.
Feeders with small openings will keep the larger birds from taking all the food and bullying the smaller ones. Finding the best feeders and best locations for the birds you want to attract may require trial and error.
Birds are surprising friendly after you start feeding them and they get to know you as a friend. If you put food out at a certain time everyday they will hang around the feeder waiting for your arrival.
The least expensive seed mixes will attract a variety of birds who will eat the desirable seeds, but the remaining seeds and the sunflower shells will usually attract squirrels, chipmunks and mice. Squirrels eat a lot of food per visit, chipmunks carry away all the food in their cheek pouches. A baffle system should be implemented to discourage chipmunks also, but you may also need the small size Havahart traps for them. In about an hour a chipmunk can completely carry away all the food in a medium size feeder. Chipmunks and mice attract hawks. Leaving food out at night attracts raccoons. You will have more wildlife than you expected!
Sometimes the birds will disappear for a couple hours, either because they are resting in the trees or because a hawk has been spotted close by. If you look out the window you may see the hawk in a tree about 100 feet away with a clear view of the feeder. Some hawks can catch birds as well as chipmunks. Hawks keep the birds from eating. If the birds seem to be hiding all the time, it is wise to take down the feeder for a few months to get rid of the hawk.
During nesting season the birds will bring their chicks to the feeders. You will see the parents feeding them for awhile, the babies flap their wings rapidly for attention, and soon the baby birds will come to the feeders by themselves. Young birds will often stay close to the feeders so there are more opportunities to watch them. You can't help yourself - you will soon be a "birdwatcher".
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