Backyard bird feeding becomes welcome COVID respite

A bird bath will be used by non-feeder species, such as ruby-crowned kinglets, as a source of drinking water. | Annie McLeod photo

During the past year, working from home, home schooling and social isolation have all provided the time, reason and opportunity for watching and identifying the birds that visit and inhabit our yards, gardens and neighbourhoods.

For those working from home, getting away from the phone and computer to gaze out the window or sit on the back deck enjoying the activities of their feathered neighbours has provided fresh air, enjoyment and a diversion.

For home schooling students, observing the birds in the backyard may have become material for school projects. As well, for everybody who was socially isolating, binoculars, cameras, bird books and a bird list have provided some purpose, entertainment and calm during a stressful time. The many organizations and businesses involved in observing birds and selling bird foods and feeders are all reporting increased interest and sales this past year.

With this increased interest in birds, Nature Saskatchewan recently announced the publication of a new full-colour guide to the art and science of attracting and feeding birds.

The 112-page book is called Backyard Bird Feeding: A Saskatchewan Guide. It is a complete guide to year-round bird feeding in Saskatchewan. The book is based on the best-selling Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide, authored by Myrna Pearman and published by Ellis Bird Farm in 2015. Since Alberta and Saskatchewan share similar habitats, climatic conditions and many of the same bird species, it seemed logical to Nature Saskatchewan to adapt the Alberta book for use by Saskatchewan residents. Well-known writer and naturalist Trevor Herriot provided the Saskatchewan perspective to Myrna Pearman’s work. The combined knowledge, experience and talents of these two writers and bird lovers has resulted in a beautiful, engaging and informative handbook.

Nature Saskatchewan is the voice for nature across Saskatchewan. As one of the oldest independent environmental non-profits in Saskatchewan, they believe that individuals need to experience nature to lean to value and appreciate it. This book will help many develop a connection with nature in general and specifically with birds.

The guide offers a wealth of information, tips and myth busting facts. Backyard bird enthusiasts from across the Prairies contributed the many beautiful photographs that make the book a delight. This publication is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in attracting and enjoying birds in their backyard.

The best way to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds is to plant nectar-producing flowers. Hummingbird feeders with sugar water are a close second. | Nick Saunders photo

One of the first things to do to encourage birds to visit a yard is to create an inviting, bird friendly space that offers shelter, food and water. A mature yard with trees, bushes and plants provides shelter, nesting sites and food and thus will usually attract a greater number and diversity of feeder birds. For a new or open yard, allow the land to naturalize, if possible, or add plantings like fruit trees, berry bearing bushes and shrubs. The dense branching structure of spruce trees provide protection from predators and shelter at night and during cold seasons.

Other shelter options are bush and log piles, and nesting boxes or platforms. Dead or dying trees provide nesting and roosting sites, as well as places to hang bird feeders that can be easily viewed.

Natural food sources will attract the greatest variety of bird species. The guide suggests selecting native plant species that offer “food directly by way of the insects they attract, or by the sap, blossoms, buds, seeds, berries, fruits, and/or nectar they produce.”

Orange halves are relished by many species, including gray catbirds. | Denise Trachsel photo

In the fall, leave fruits on the trees and seed heads on plants for the birds to dine on. Sunflowers are a wonderful example of a seed-bearing plant that is easy to add to the yard. Because of their high fat and protein content, sunflowers are the most sought-after seed used in bird feeders. An interesting fact found in the guide is that “sunflower seeds supply more calories, per gram, than most other seeds found in the wild or even most insect larvae.”

The height and placement of bird feeders and feeding platforms will influence which bird species will be attracted to feed there. It is essential to place feeding platforms near trees and shrubs to provide protective cover, yet the location needs to allow for easy viewing and refilling.

Consideration also needs to be given to prevent window collisions. The guide suggest that “adding berries, apples and orange halves to tray feeders during the spring and summer may attract orioles, tanagers, warblers, catbirds, bluebirds, waxwings, grosbeaks, thrashers, and white crowned sparrows”.

Hummingbirds are one of the most fascinating little feathered visitors that can be attracted to a yard. Growing annuals and perennials that produce nectar and attract small insects are the best way to attract hummingbirds. These natural food sources are healthier for them than sugar water, which should just be provided as a supplement. Bell/trumpet-shaped blossoms are preferred by hummingbirds to accommodate their long tongues.

A pine siskin, common redpoll and black-capped chickadee dine together on a tube feeder holding a high-quality wild bird mix. | Myrna Pearman photo

The guide states that the “ideal hummingbird plantings for Saskatchewan should include bee balm, columbine, delphinium, flowering tobacco, fuchsia, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hyssop, nasturtium, petunia, sage, salvia, and scarlet runner bean.” An interesting fact is that hummingbirds love to bathe in a fine mist of water. Water mister garden hose attachments are commercially available.

In attracting birds to the yard, water is as inviting as food. Like humans, birds are attracted to the gentle sound of water and they need it for bathing and to drink. Water sources can range from natural wetlands, water gardens and bird baths to mud patches. Shrubbery nearby will allow birds a place to roost after a bath and shelter for repeated quick drinks.

In addition to advice on how to attract birds with food, shelter and water, and how to handle challenges should they arise, the Backyard Bird Feeding: A Saskatchewan Guide also provides detailed accounts and photos of the species most likely to visit Saskatchewan yards and their feeding preferences. There are also sidebars with fascinating tidbits and trivia that add interest and insight into the remarkable lives of wild birds. Specific information is also provided on how to prepare suet feeding mixtures, how to construct platform feeders and how to protect feeding birds from yard cats.

Nature Saskatchewan invites feedback and the sharing of experiences with bird-feeding on their Facebook page or on Twitter via @NatureSask.

Backyard Bird Feeding: A Saskatchewan Guide is available from Nature Saskatchewan’s online store and a variety of book and bird-feeding retail stores.

Backyard Bird Feeding: A Saskatchewan Guide is available from Nature Saskatchewan’s online store and a variety of book and bird-feeding retail stores. Purchase price is $19.95. The Alberta book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide, is available from the Ellis Bird Farm’s online store at ellisbirdfarm.ca

A thank you to Nature Saskatchewan for the use of these photos from Backyard Bird Feeding: A Saskatchewan Guide.

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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