Creating Habitat for Birds Part 1 of 2

April 21, 2017

When we build new housing or commercial developments, we inevitably scare away many birds and other wildlife that we want to keep in our backyards. Once we’ve developed an area, it’s our job to re-create habitat that birds will come back to and thrive in.

A quick fun fact about birds that live in urban areas: these birds sing louder and at a higher pitch because the general level of noise is much higher in cities compared to forested areas.

To start off with there are 4 main types of birds that you should know about: avoiders, adapters, exploiters, and facilitators.

  • Avoiders- these types of birds require native habitat away from people which means they are difficult to keep in settled areas. Both woodpeckers and wrens fall into this category.
Woodpecker Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

Woodpecker Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

  • Adapters- like the name states, these birds will adapt to fit into their changing world. They are relatively easy to keep around in our gardens and include birds like brewer’s blackbirds, hummingbirds, and juncos. The brewer’s blackbird is an extremely adaptable bird that you’ll often see hanging out in your local Costco. Male juncos that live in urban environments have also learned to adapt by changing the color of their tail feathers to have less white in them. This is because female juncos in cities have started favoring males with more brown tail feathers.
Dark Eyed Junco Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

Dark Eyed Junco Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

  • Exploiters- these guys require our presence and are mainly found in cities. They include birds like crows, pigeons, parrots, and the house finch. Not only do crows depend on our presence, but they have also developed a “culture of hate”. If a crow has a bad experience with a human, they will remember that person’s face and will actually pass that along to their offspring so it perpetuates for years. You could say it’s a love/hate relationship! John Marzluff, who headed the research and study about this, gave a really interesting TED talk in 2014 about this study.
House Finch Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

House Finch Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

  • Facilitators- Not only does this category include birds like sapsuckers, but also people. Facilitators help other birds and wildlife by providing food or homes.
Red Breasted Sapsucker Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

Red Breasted Sapsucker Photo Courtesy of Audubon Society

In order to welcome back these 4 types of birds and sustain their habitat, these are some of the steps we can take to create and maintain a healthy, bird friendly northwest garden:

  • Take the time to get to know your landscape and what kind of birds and wildlife you currently have before you make any changes.
  • Diversify- one of the biggest things to remember when creating habitat for birds is that more diversity in plants and materials equals more species of birds. Use a variety of native trees and shrubs and repeat them when possible.
  • Remove invasive plants on your property if you have any but make sure to do this gradually in case they are supplying habitat for anything
  • If possible, try to keep the edge of your yard native. You can also minimize the amount of lawn if you’d like by replacing it with ground covers or shrubs or even making it into a wildflower meadow. Did you know that there are 40 million acres of lawn in the US alone?! That’s a lot of water use!
  • When planting, plant trees first followed by smaller shrubs and other plants. By planting trees first you’ll be providing shade and habitat right away.
  • Provide flowering plants for pollinators and try to group these flowering plants in drifts or clusters so that they can find them easily. Also remember that some pollinators, like butterflies, also need plants for their larvae so it’s important to include those host plants, as well, and not just flowers.
  • You can plant hedgerows in place of fences if you have the option.
  • Try to avoid compacting or eroding soil and add in organic material to improve the makeup of your soil.
  • Use permeable materials to help with water runoff.
  • Provide bird food- either sprinkle in your lawn or planting beds or put in a bird feeder.
  • Provide nest boxes or drill holes in snag/dead trees on your property.
  • Provide water, especially in extended periods of heat or cold.
  • Leave brush piles. Birds, like the native wren, live in these, big or small. You can also leave fallen leaves on the ground without shredding them to provide other habitat for overwintering creatures.
  • Leave seed heads throughout winter to provide food and habitat.
  • Keep cats inside or in a catio.
  • Make windows more visible by putting a UV sticker on the window. Windows can either reflect the surrounding area making it hard to tell the difference between what’s real and not or windows can be transparent and birds may see things inside that they like and will try to fly through the window to get to.
  • If you have lighting in your yard, try to point it down or use a soft colored, dim bulb.
  • Don’t use pesticides, poisons, or chemical fertilizers
  • Do not dig up plants from the wild. Buy from local, reputable nurseries.
  • Bond with nearby nature. It’s always fun to bird watch or take the kids out to feed ducks!

By taking these steps, you can help create a more welcoming and safer habitat for the birds living in your landscape and they will hopefully attract some new ones! If you’d like to read more about bird habitat in urban areas, John Marzluff’s book, Welcome to Subirdia, is a great option! You can also read Real Gardens Grow Natives by Eileen Stark which talks about designing a healthy northwest garden.

Be sure to check back soon for the next part of creating habitat for birds where we’ll talk about must have plants for supporting bird habitat.

How do you attract birds to your yard? Let us know in the comments and we may feature your idea in our next post!

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