Bring in the Birds

Bring in the Birds

Birds delight us with their rich colors and intricate songs, but they also act as a natural form of pest control since they snack on insects like ants and flies. To help you make your lawn an avian hot spot, we asked Steve Kress, vice president for bird conservation at the Audubon Society and author of The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds (Cornell University Press, 2006), for some expert advice. Here are his four tips:

1. LET YOUR LAWN GO
Allow the grass in a back corner of your lawn to grow tall—this provides birds with cover from predators. Plant some meadow wildflowers like lavender, daisies, asters, or goldenrod, which birds use for food and nesting material. And curb your use of harsh pesticides and fertilizers: According to the Audubon Society, lawn chemicals kill 7 million birds each year in the United States.

2. MIMIC A BIRD’S NATURAL HABITAT
Use your property’s border to create surroundings similar to what birds encounter in the wild. Plant trees and shrubs they love—including thorny trees (hawthorn or raspberry) for nesting, berry trees and shrubs (dogwood or serviceberry) for food, and evergreens (spruce or juniper) for cover. You can also start a brush pile—a popular form of shelter for birds—in a back corner of your yard. Simply stack downed tree limbs (largest pieces at the bottom, smaller ones on top so the pile doesn’t topple). Any size pile will do, but if you have the space, a 6-foot-high pile is ideal, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

3. PROVIDE WATER
Put out a birdbath that’s shallow enough for birds to drink and bathe in and high enough so eager cats can’t reach it. To prevent the growth of algae and mosquito larvae, scrub your bath with a stiff brush and change the water every few days.

4. OFFER GOURMET FOOD
Entice birds with black oil sunflower seeds (available at home and garden stores). Cracked corn and millet are also popular choices. If you feed them through the winter, you’ll see more birds. And they won’t become dependent on your food, says Kress. No matter how extreme the weather, birds always know how to find food and water in nature.