Photography by Curtis and Norma Beaird
Article by Norma Beaird
On February 14 - 17, 2014,
bird lovers worldwide can participate in the
The GBBC has instructions on how to register for the Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by The Cornell Lab, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. You can also register through websites like eBird.com. We are registered through eBird and have found that to be the easiest way to document birds all year long.
Here is the fun part of the Great Backyard Bird Count. You can bird anywhere - in your backyard, on a pond or lake, at a state park, in the mountains or at the beach. You can bird at the local park downtown or even at a shopping center. After all, birds seem to hang out most anywhere!
However, when you count birds at your specific location, you specify the location and number of birds (for each species) on eBird.
If you are counting birds in your backyard, we want to share some tips on how to attract birds to your neck of the woods. These tips have come from our own personal observations and through researching books and articles about bird feeding.
How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
This particular article and list will be for those who already feed birds, because if you didn't have feeders in your backyard at least 2 - 3 weeks ago, you probably won't see any more birds than you normally see on a daily basis.
Here is a list of favorite seeds/suets for birds:
1. Unsalted Peanuts - Please be sure that you purchase unsalted peanuts. Birds should not have salt in their diets. We purchase peanuts and cut them up on a wooden cutting board with a 10-inch chef's knife.
We have seen the following birds eat peanuts:
Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Red-Winged Blackbird, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Pine Warbler and Brown-Headed Nuthatch.
2. Black Oil Sunflower - this is a "must" on any bird feeding station. Black Oil Sunflower (not to be confused with with Striped Sunflower) is a favorite of the following birds, such as the: Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and American Goldfinch. Other birds love Black Oil Sunflower, but these are just a few who love it!
3. White Millet - this is a definite favorite of the Chipping Sparrow, Mourning Dove and Eurasian Collared-Dove. However, it's also a favorite of Brown-Headed Cowbirds. So, if you're having problems with cowbirds, don't feed white millet.
Special Note: Don't buy millet blends mixed with red milo or red millet. The birds don't like it. It is considered a filler and will be left in the feeder or on the ground.
4. Beef-Fat Suet - This type of suet is very inexpensive (usually .99 - $1.49), and it can be purchased in retail stores such as Walmart, Tractor Supply, Lowe's, Fred's Super Dollar, and various franchises like Wild Birds Unlimited who cater exclusively to birdwatchers (their suet cakes are usually $2.99 - $3.99).
Keep in mind that if you're on a budget, the more high-end, locally-owned stores will have more expensive products. Depending upon your U.S. or Canadian location, you may have different retail stores for purchasing beef-fat suet or suet cakes.
Since we live in a rural area in Georgia, we purchase most of our suet from Walmart, Fred's Super Dollar or Tractor Supply. We purchase the ready-made Royal Wing Suet from Tractor Supply and we also buy the ready-made C & S Suet (carried by Fred's and Walmart), and our birds love it. Then, we add our own ingredients such as :
Cut-up unsalted peanuts, black oil sunflower, cut-up raisins and white millet
We're using the popular Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl for mixing up the bird suet.
With either beef-fat or cake suet, you will need to purchase a suet cage (they usually run about $1.50 - $2.00). A cake suet is a little more solid and not as greasy as the beef-fat suet. However, it's easier to add ingredients to the beef-fat suet. Just be warned: the beef-fat is a greasy mess, but it's a lot of fun and birds love it!
The Chipping Sparrow, Brown-Headed Nutchatch and Pine Warbler are enjoying the beef-fat suet in the suet cage. There is a solid cake suet on the left and a beef-fat suet mixed with unsalted peanuts, black oil sunflower, raisins and white millet on the right. As you can tell, the birds are happy!
Usually, after we mix up a batch of beef-fat suet, I will simply hand-press the mixture through the squares on the suet cage (with my other hand firmly planted on the back). This method is a surefire way to pack in as much suet as possible. I would suggest not wearing jewelry when packing a suet cage.
During really cold weather; or, when the barometric pressure changes and a storm is coming in, the birds will eat more suet to build up body fat during migration and to sustain themselves in the nesting process.
Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling suet cages, bird feeders or bird baths. In addition, every week or so, you will want get out the garden hose and wash your bird feeders or suet cages in the yard.
5. Brick Suet - Our birds, especially the woodpeckers, love the harder, brick suets that we attach to tree branches. We currently buy the popular and affordable C & S Woodpecker Brick (costs about $2.50), and have watched as the Downy Woodpecker, Red-Belled Woodpecker and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker peck away at the suet full of: black oil sunflower, corn, roasted peanuts, raisins, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans and walnuts.
In our observations, we have also noticed that the older the brick suet becomes, the more they like it. Sometimes, they wait a day or two before they begin to dine on the brick suet.
6. Suet Spread or Bark Butter or Tree Icing - This is a spread of peanuts and roasted corn and various other nuts. It is a treat that the birds will love. We have seen our birds eat this spread all day long. We use a wooden spreader knife (to be used only for the birds) and spread it on the branch of a tree.
Update: Click here for Curtis' Recipe for Peanut Butter Tree Spread
7. Nyger Seed or Thistle Seed - this is a major attractant for American Goldfinches. You can buy ready made thistle socks (approximately $3.50 - $4.95). Or, you can purchase large bags of thistle seed and fill up thistle socks purchased separately. Some retail stores such as Walmart, Lowe's or Tractor Supply sell the globes with thistle socks (approximately $14.95). The globes make it much easier to fill up the socks because you refill the socks through the top of the globe.
Special Note: American Goldfinches also enjoy black oil sunflower or sunflower hearts. Therefore, you can feed them nyger seed or sunflower.
Attract birds to your backyard with a bird bath or two!
If you want to attract many different species of birds to your backyard, you will definitely need a bird bath. You never know who will come and visit! Birds need to drink water and they also need a bath; therefore, you will really help your avian friends when you provide them with a daily clean supply of water. Also, be sure that the bird bath remains clean and remove any buildup or mold that may form.
If you're on a tight budget, there is a very affordable way to set up an instant bird bath. Buy a clay pot and clay water catcher. Important note: The bird bath or clay pot water catcher cannot be more than two inches deep.
Turn the clay pot upside down; and, using a carpenter's glue, take the clay water catcher and glue it to the bottom of the clay pot. We have noticed that when you use a clay pot bird bath, the birds are more likely to take a bath because the clay pots are rustic, earthy colors, similar to the colors in their environment. Here is an example.
Keep your backyard surroundings, feeders, bird baths and area as close to nature as possible. Remember, natural is always better. Make your birds feel at home in a comfortable environment.
Even if you purchase a decorative bird bath, do not purchase something flashy in bold, primary colors. At one point, we tried this. We purchased a festive and fun, Caribbean-looking, bold-colored bird bath...... and the birds wouldn't touch it. Therefore, buy a bird bath in earth tones of green, brown, rust or deep beige. The earthier and more rustic, the better. Think nature.
In addition, go with natural, earth-tone colors for feeders. Use wooden hanging feeders whenever possible. Wooden stand-up feeders have been fun for us because the birds can land on the feeder to eat without anything getting in its way. Plus, when we're photographing the birds, there is not an obstruction of view.
On the other hand, if you're attempting to attract a Baltimore Oriole, then a bright orange feeder would be perfect. Baltimore Orioles are attracted to orange just like hummingbirds are attracted to red.
At times, we have purchased the tube feeders, and they work just fine; however, they don't feed many birds at one time. Since we live in a very wooded, rural area, we have a lot of birds. Therefore, we stopped buying the tube feeders for a while to prevent some major bird arguments. LOL However, if we find an extra long tube feeder and it's not extremely hot and humid weather, we'll also use a tube for bird feeding.
The following picture is an example of our bird-feeding station. We place the standing feeders as close to a tree as possible. Why? Birds will need to protect themselves from hawks. Being close to trees or shrubs will help to disguise and protect them. If you purchase hanging feeders, here is a great example of a wooden feeder from Lowe's. These wooden feeders have a bottom with tiny holes. Here is another example of a wooden hanging feeder that kinda looks like a log cabin. Both feeders are easy to wash and clean with a garden hose.
Depending upon where you are located in the United States, Canada or even the world, you may have to adjust for different species of birds. Different species may prefer different seeds or feeding arrangements. Some may prefer mealworms. Consequently, your bird feeding arrangement depends upon your climate and whether you're in a very rural area, a subdivision or in the middle of a busy city.
These are just a few tips that we hope will add to the enjoyment of the fun and exciting Great Backyard Bird Count. In our photography journal, we have many photos showcasing our birds, bird feeders and bird baths. You will find them at the following link:
Copyright 2014, Curtis and Norma Beaird. All rights reserved.