Ten tips for making your home a happy haven for birds

Dear Jane, One of my favorite ways to enjoy coffee in the morning is by sitting in my kitchen and watching the birds. Do I have to lose that with fall now here?
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

Dear Jane,

One of my favorite ways to enjoy coffee in the morning is by sitting in my kitchen and watching the birds. Do I have to lose that with fall now here?

Thanks,

Margaret L.

Dear Margaret,

Shorter days, cooler nights, leaves fallingthere's no denying that summer's behind us.

Being a Jane, you've probably already put away the outdoor furniture, gussied up the guest bedroom, and begun to winterize your home.

You're ready for the onslaught of relatives, friends, and neighbors who seem to pop out of the woodwork when the holidays come around. But as you prepare for the dormant days ahead, take a little time to make your home an inviting spot for your guests who won't be hunkered down inside your well-insulated house: the wild birds who call your neighborhood home, too.

Shelter from the storm

Birds need protection from the elements and from predators.

Locate your birdhouses away from prevailing winds; usually your home's southern and eastern exposures will provide the warmest, calmest spots.

Brush piles are also an excellent source of shelter and food for birds. If you needed an excuse not to get rid of those dead branches and leaves, here's your chance! All that brush offers shelter from the weather and also provides a steady source of worms and bugs that birds need to survive.

Needs to breathe

Even though you want to keep the birds warm, you want to be sure to provide air vents as well. You can accomplish this by either leaving gaps between the roof and the sides of the bird house or use your drill to make a line of quarter inch size holes just below the roof line.

Feeding your feathered friends

Keeping your feeders clean and full is especially important in winter and fall. Because birds come to rely on local sources of food, letting a feeder go empty for long can be life threatening. Hummingbirds in particular appreciate feeders in the fall, since their regular sources of nectar are greatly diminished. Different species appreciate different feed mixes; woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees in particular appreciate suet-rich formulas.

You can also make a treat by rubbing a pinecone with hardened fat (like bacon grease) and covering it with birdseed or crumbs.

Water, water everywhere

Birds need increased sources of water in the fall. Many of their regular sources are dried up and their metabolisms are working hard to fight increasingly cool temperatures.

Birdbaths, fountains, and ponds can all be havens. Make sure they're clean (check them daily for fallen leaves), filled with fresh water, and try not to let it freeze over.

Drain it?

Although birds need water, you don't want to have standing water at the bottom of your bird house. Just like your home, you need to make the bird house with a roof with an appropriate slope and overhang. You might also consider drilling the entrance hole on an upward slant.

Unfortunately, there will be those storms that will force rain water into the bird house, so make sure you have proper drainage by cutting away the corners of the box floor.

Protect the food supply

Regularly check your feed containers for bugs, mildew or rot. Make sure the container is easy for you to get to, protected from rain and drips, and sealed off from nuisances like neighborhood cats or squirrels.

Unwelcome guests

With food being readily accessible, you might attract a few unwanted guests such as squirrels, mice, insects and sometimes snakes. You might also find an overly protective mother, so, be careful when looking inside. Also, be on the look out for smaller vermin such as flies, fleas, mites and lice in the bottom. If you find any, be careful to only use insecticides that are proven to be 100% safe for birds.

Plan a bird-friendly backyard

To attract and keep the broadest variety of birds coming back to your property, you'll need a landscape plan that's bird-friendly. Ideally, your grounds will include a combination of ground cover, shrubs, small and large trees. A variety of plants will do more than attract a spectrum of birds and animals; it'll provide color and breadth that can help complete a rich overall outdoor scene.

Keep out

Starlings, house sparrows and other predators will try to find a way in. So, limit their options by making sure there is only one entry point. Bird houses with numerous points of entry are usually not the 'hotel' of choice as most birds don't like to share. And although a perch just outside the entry might seem like a good idea, it's often just a convenient place for a predator to wait for their prey.

Design it

Have fun with your birdhouse by using colors that are appealing to your senses. Keep in mind the tips given above, but feel free to take a little creative liberty with the look of your birdhouse. Be sure to use paints that are eco-friendly as well as materials that will stand up to the weather. Stay away from adding padding or other materials to the inside of the bird house as many birds are rather particular and will prefer to make their own bed. But, as far as the look of the outside of the bird house goes, it's up to you, so have fun with it!

Doing a little home improvement on behalf of your feathered friends can definitely take some of the bite out of winter and fall. Check with your local Audubon Society or other birding groups for more tips on species in your area, keep a set of binoculars handy, and enjoy the opportunity to provide a little aid and comfort to the wild animals that nest in your neighborhood.