Birds don’t stay still, but they can be persuaded to visit your yard. My heart thrills when a Cardinal flashes his bright plumage or a Carolina Wren belts out her tea-kettle-tea-kettle-tea-kettle-tea in my Lady Banksia climbing rose or a favorite tree.

Abbie Pressley and Melanie Moore of Wild Birds Unlimited advocate “birdscaping” your yard.  Birdscaping means “offering a combination of food, shelter, water and places where birds can safely raise their young.”

Food and Water

“The type of food is the most important thing,” Pressley says.  She advocates buying food, either seeds or suet, with a high fat content. Birds having a reliable food source during nesting have been shown to raise one more surviving baby bird than birds without a reliable source. Some species, including the Eastern Bluebird, can have two or even three broods per year. If you take care of the mother, she has more energy to offer her babies.

It’s best to buy seed that’s already shelled; that way birds don’t have to crack the seeds and drop the shells or dig through for their favorite kind, which can lead to sprouting seed below the feeder and can attract more squirrels.

Speaking of squirrels, there are plenty of squirrel-resistant feeders. Pressley and Moore can teach you how to hang a feeder properly “so that squirrels can’t take the food, even if they still get on the feeder.” 

Wild Birds Unlimited has a variety of foods including specialty blends: winter blend and nesting blend are among the top sellers. Winter blend has the highest fat and protein content to help birds generate enough heat through cold nights. Nesting blends includes extra calcium to help build stronger egg shells.  You can also buy food to attract specific birds; suet is a good choice for birds that eat insects, nuts, seeds and berries.

Native plants are an excellent way to “birdscape” your yard with food and shelter that’s just right for our backyard friends. 

Once you start feeding, make sure that the feeder always has food. Birds quickly establish patterns of checking their food sources; and, they begin to count on having the right food available. They will also check for fresh water, so a bird bath can offer another reason for them to stick around.

Shelter, Housing and Hiding

Nesting boxes and bird houses are attractive additions to the garden. From classic boxes with roofs to church designs to gourds, you can find a design to suit your taste. Purple Martins like gourds, string several on a pole and they
will gladly live in close proximity. It’s breath-taking to watch them dive in. 

Wrens are partial to sideways bottles with perches near the mouth (though I have a persistent wren who this year built its nest in a watering can on my screened porch). Bluebirds like a small box tacked to a tree. Spend a little time deciding who you’d like to populate your backyard, then ask Pressley and Moore to identify you the perfect house.

Plantings

It’s also a good idea to provide plants that serve as shelter and food sources. The SC Native Plant Society has a great website, a spring and fall native plant sale,

plus lectures and hikes throughout the year to help you brush up on best choices for your backyard habitat. Native plants are an excellent way to “birdscape” your yard with food and shelter that’s just right for our backyard friends.

The Upstate is blessed with a diverse environment which means we benefit from a wide variety of bird species. If you want to increase your identification skills, check out the Greenville County Bird Club’s monthly outing or plan some family vacations around South Carolina’s Top 10 Bird Watching Spots.

Birds are a special gift of nature and they are beguiling because they don’t stay still.

by Julia Sibley-Jones