Just Like the Birds

Each month my husband and I review our expenditures on the bank’s computer-generated pie chart. It does help to grasp the outlay of things that seems to disappear each month from our bank account. Vehicles, of course, cost a lot to operate and keep filled with gas.  Homes are a huge expense. For us food is a big slice of the pie as we like to eat well.  

In fact we spend a lot of time, energy and expense acquiring wholesome, and locally grown food.   So our money and personal resources are expended getting around, eating to nourish our bodies and maintaining a suitable place to live.

In the bird world it’s pretty much the same story.  Most of the questions I get from customers at Jay’s Bird Barn are “which type of feeder is best for what bird, what do the birds like to eat, what birds live in what house, or how can I attract more birds?”  All these questions can be narrowed down to one answer:  Habitat.

Ecologists define habitat as FOOD, WATER, SHELTER, and SPACE in a suitable arrangement.  We humans have complicated the idea but it’s really pretty basic.  To attract birds to your backyard you need to carefully consider these habitat components.  In the desert water is key.  It can be a simple ornamental bird bath like we sell at the store, or a custom recirculating water feature you build.  Either way water must be kept clean and changed regularly because it will be used by many birds with varying degrees of health.  We have “water holes” in shady spots for summer and sunny areas for winter.

If low shrubs and/or trees are close by (SHELTER) birds will use the feature more because they have avenues of escape should cats or hawks approach (SUITABLE ARRANGEMENT).

When addressing FOOD consider that white-crowned sparrows, towhees, doves and quail for example, like to feed close to the ground with good cover close by.  Other birds, such as jays and finches, might prefer higher and more open areas. Suitable, good quality seed with high protein and good fat provides birds energy through the long winter days. Poor quality seed that has a lot of milo in it, primarily filler, will be scratched aside and attract rodents foraging on the ground.  Planting native shrubs & flowers will balance the diet and provide shelter for backyard and migrating birds as well as enhance your own visual habitat.

Birds need SPACE to wander, forage, take big showy flights to impress a mate or to find a private sheltering tree to roost at night or a secret place to hide a nest.   And all this needs to be within flight proximity to water and food. For migrating birds space can include thousands of miles through diverse lands.

Nature is of course the best teacher with regard to habitat design.  Riparian areas with diverse vegetation and links to upland deserts, via natural dry washes will be rich with birds as well as other wildlife.  Strive to “connect” your backyard habitat to natural lands nearby.  And create diversity in terms of feeding and watering stations, plantings and habitat components.

Birds, just like us, are content when they have snug, natural shelter with good views of the surrounding land, healthy food, clean water to drink and energy to work and play. It’s all HABITAT.  Creating suitable habitat for birds or ourselves can be a very rewarding experience.

 Thoreau said, “It’s as fitting for a man (or woman) to build his house as it is for a bird to build its nest.”  But that’s another story…

Christmas is the time for giving and each day, Dec. 1–24, Jay’s Bird Barn is giving away a free gift in our raffle drawing.  No purchase is necessary and you may enter every day.  The final drawing is a pair of Vortex binoculars. So come in soon and participate in the raffle and see all our new Christmas gift items.

Dena Greenwood is a seasoned naturalist, birding guide and educator. As manager of Jay’s Bird Barn in West Sedona she is available to answer questions about wild birds and enhancing your backyard habitat. You may contact her at (928) 203-5700.

or dena@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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