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Better birding

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Winter is over and spring is here but don’t put away your suet feeders yet. In fact, you don’t have to put your suet feeders away at all. Suet is an excellent food source for birds year round. But if you do insist on putting them away until next winter, please leave them out for a while yet.

Evenings and mornings will still be cool for a few more weeks and birds which are building nests and waiting for insects to appear and flowers to bloom can surely use the energy provided by suet.

Keep your feeders filled especially before and after big storms. It’s important to provide food for them to stock up on before and for refueling right after any severe weather event.

Providing a good source of clean water will attract more birds than food does. Even birds that don’t normally visit your feeders can be tempted by a water source. Moving water is most effective, since the motion and splashes or dripping will attract the eyes and ears of birds in the area, even migrating ones. Birdbaths are also essential to provide water for drinking and bathing. And don’t forget various types of birdhouses which will bring more birds to your yard.

But, it also takes more than just feeders to attract birds to your backyards. Food and water are important but so are plantings which provide areas for nesting and safety from predators. A mix of evergreens, deciduous shrubs and trees, ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals will all help provide a habitat which is bird-friendly.

Several key plants for attracting birds are cosmos, zinnias, sunflower, coneflower, butterfly weed, bee balm (monarda) and berry producing shrubs.

Hummingbirds prefer mass plantings, so plant your perennials in groups of at least 3. Hummingbirds will feed from any flower that produces high-quality nectar, but find flowers that are red and tubular particularly attractive.

It is best to plant native plants in your gardens and yards. Exotic plants can look different and stunning but there may be unintended consequences by planting invasive species which can take over your beds by out-competing native plants and not provide the proper food source for bees and butterflies.

To keep the birds in your backyards healthy it's important to keep feeders, birdhouses and birdbaths clean. Birdhouses should be cleaned at the end of each season or before the new season arrival of birds. For feeders, a monthly cleaning with a nine-to-one water-bleach solution will deter bacteria in plastic, ceramic and metal feeders. A diluted vinegar solution (three-to-one) or non-fragranced biodegradable soap should be used on wood to minimize fading.

Here are some interesting bird facts;

  • From life in the egg to leaving the nest, only about 40% of the baby birds survive.
  • The Greater Roadrunner is the fastest-running bird that can fly, being able sprint up to 15 miles per hour.
  • The fastest-flying bird is the Spine-tailed swift, also known as the White-throated Needletail, which has a top speed of 106 miles per hour.
  • The largest bird (wingspan) is the Wandering Albatross, around 12 feet.
  • Golden Eagles have the keenest eyesight allowing them to spot mammals from more than a mile away.
  • Around 400 species of birds has been recorded in Pennsylvania, with close to 300 of them being annual visitors and about 200 of them having been known to have bred here.
  • Spring and fall are the busiest birding times. Moderate temperatures cause a great number of birds to be on the move.
  • If you want your yard to become a bird sanctuary you will want to keep the neighborhood cats out.

Important birding organizations in PA:

Excellent sources for all types of information about birds can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and at eBird.