Friday, September 12, 2014

Reclaiming a yard for the birds

Birdbath and roses
Salem is nestled in the center of the Oregon wine country, and in the summer months, when the grapes hang thick on the vines that encircle the city, the sound of birdsong is almost deafening. It's a birder's paradise, to be sure, but it took my husband and I more than a year, and a significant amount of heartache to lure birds to our feeders.

Possible Visitors

Black-capped chickadees, purple finches and red-breasted nuthatches, along with the odd robin and blue jay, were all common in my neighborhood, and as I walked with Liam and Sinead in the early hours of the morning, I could hear the chirrup of Anna's hummingbirds filling the air. But, the house I moved into was surrounded by a yard that had been neglected for a year or more, and the birds seem to have given up on finding anything of value in the weeds, sticks and dead grasses I saw when I looked out the window.

I started by filling feeders with black sunflower seed, hoping to entice most of these little birds to give the yard a try, and I filled a few hummingbird feeders with sugar water. I suppose I hoped that the little Annas would lure the others in for a spin.

But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get these little ones to come into the yard. I heard their calls, but they really weren't interested in my feeders.

Quick Solutions

I started a yard rehab by removing a large, dying apple tree. This big obstacle prevented long swoops of bird flight, and it made easy lookouts difficult. The birds seemed much more willing to enter the yard when they could see where they were going, and what might be coming to get them.

Next, I added in some bird baths. The neighborhood can be remarkably dry, particularly in the depths of winter, and I thought the birds might enjoy a small pool of water that they could both drink and eat.

Finally, I installed the feeders on top of a pole that was squirrel resistant. The pole also kept the feeders about 4 feet from the ground, and it wasn't located close to any large structure that an outdoor cat might be able to stand on or hide behind.

All of these restorations took several months, and as I worked, I started to hear more and more birds taking advantage of the changes. Little fluttering wings accompanied my trips to refill the birdbath, and the feeders needed frequent changes of food.

Sudden Invasions

Birds in a bird feeder

All of my hard work was paying off, until other creatures started noticing that I had frequent bird visitors. Cats, in particular, proved to be a problem. Feeder placement ensured no cat sneak attacks happened mid-meal, but my cats became adept at lingering on the ground, and they managed to snap up one bird mid-flight. Bells on their collars, along with judicious use of a squirt bottle, helped to amend that issue. But, I'm in the process of building a very large fence to keep the other neighborhood cats out of the yard. They seem to like to linger. (More on this in next week's blog.)

One death I blamed on the cats had nothing to do with their handiwork at all, however, and I haven't managed to correct this problem.

After a long bike ride, I came home to see feathers on the ground and more falling from the air above. I couldn't figure out what was happening, until I pulled out the binoculars and saw the kestrel eviscerating one of my chickadees. That guy hasn't been back, but it's something I'm watching for.

More on birds next week!

No comments: