Observation is the number one tool of bird watchers and birding ecologists – and that’s you! Keep an eye out for the arrival of different bird species as the seasons begin to shift. Are the finches and blackbirds singing earlier in the morning? When did their spring songs begin? Listen to new tunes wafting in the air – as these are your arriving nesters. In fact, the birds you see in your yard every year really are familiar faces returning to their original territories.
Tagging and tracking information reveals that “migratory songbirds return to the same territory or local area each spring after traveling thousands of miles to and from their wintering grounds…Studies of banded birds show that 20-60 percent of migratory songbirds typically return to the same local area.” ( Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
As soon as the days begin to lengthen, birds are claiming territories, or reconnecting with mates. Many species, such as the house finches, are already building their nests. Now is a good time to set out straw and nesting materials for the birds to use.Spring may be synonymous with cleaning – but it means house building for the birds! Of course – keep feeders and birdbaths extra clean. The warmer weather, tempered with spring rains and coupled with the increase in new arrivals, greatly increases the risk of disease.
Mold and pathogens are at a higher level due to ambient moisture, warmth and increased migratory bird traffic (which means disease can be “flown” into your feeding stations). Be sure to use a livestock approved (like Oxine) cleaner to disinfect feeders and watering areas.Scrub birdbaths daily.
What do I put in my feeder?
The answer is pretty simple - keep feeding what you provided throughout the fall and winter… but add some extra menu items. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reminds us that it “is now known that if the weather turns cold or wet during spring or summer, severe shortage of insect food can occur, and if the weather is exceptionally dry, earthworms will be unavailable to the ground feeders because of the hard soil.”
Sunflower seed and mixed seedMany birds love these oil rich seeds from the sunflower plant. Black oil is the favorite, but there are many varieties of sunflower. Providing chips or shelled kernels prevent waste. If you have your feeder set up over your flowerbed or gardening area – those cracked sunflower shells, and tromping bird feet, can leave you with a mess. You won’t want the shells covering your tender young plants or emerging bulbs. You won’t be able to rake them away and they tend to smother plants. If you don’t want the added expense of switching to shelled seeds, move the feeder away from your plants.
Chubby MealwormsThis perennial favorite is a welcome “treat of the day” at your feeding stations. Insect eating birds will thank you for this “daily special!” Serve these delicacies dry or soaked. Only serve enough rehydrated worms for a day’s feeding, and ensure mealworm feeders are kept clean.
NutsNuts are a favorite fat and protein snack. Don’t let your peanuts or tree nuts get wet or go rancid, as they can carry deadly mycotoxins. Some ornithologists suggest removing nuts when hatchlings emerge, as whole nuts can pose a choking hazard for the tiny chicks.
Let’s welcome in the spring and our returning feathered guests!