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    Attract Feathered Friends by Adding Bird Feeders and Birdhouses to Your Yard

    By Carol Davis

    Create a bird-friendly habitat in your yard and you'll not only help keep the local bird population robust, but you'll be rewarded with an up-close and entertaining look at nature.

    Attracting birds, no matter where you live, requires providing three basic elements, according to the National Bird-Feeding Society: food, water, and a sheltered place to raise their young.

    Food

    Your choice of feed and a bird feeder will determine which species come to your yard. A variety of feeders will appeal to more kinds of birds. Choose a hopper or tray feeder, tube feeder, finch feeder, and suet feeder.

    • Hopper and tray feeders will attract a wide variety, including larger birds such as cardinals and mourning doves, because they have ledges and larger areas for large birds to land. Fill them with a mixed seed that contains a good quantity of black oil sunflower seed, which is the No. 1 choice of feeder birds.
    • Tube feeders, made from screen or plastic, entice medium and smaller-sized songbirds such as chickadees, finches, titmice, and nuthatches. Fill tube feeders with mixed seed, sunflower, hulled sunflower, and Nyjer (thistle) seeds, depending on what they're designed to hold.
    • Finch feeders are tube feeders designed to hold only thistle seeds, which is what finches prefer. Look closely at the tube feeder's feed openings; if they're small and shaped like a grain of rice, that feeder is designed for thistle seed to feed finches.
    • Suet feeders, which contain high-fat, high-energy suet, draw woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches. It once was thought that suet should be fed only in winter to replenish birds' depleted stores of energy and nutrients and help them survive harsh, cold conditions, but suet is beneficial to birds year 'round. It helps with the increased energy demands of nesting birds in the spring. It provides nourishment during hot, dry summer months when insects may not be plentiful due to lack of moisture. And in fall, suet helps birds prepare for migration or the coming winter.

    Locate your bird feeders in sheltered areas, out of the rain and wind, so feed stays dry.

    Keep your bird feeders at a safe distance — at least 8 to 10 feet — from protective shrubbery where house cats might lurk.

    Clean bird feeders regularly to prevent diseases. Scrape bird droppings and moldy food off feeders and rinse or wipe clean with a disinfectant solution of one part vinegar to 20 parts water. Allow feeders to dry before refilling.

    Water

    Birds need fresh water every day, not only to drink, but to keep their feathers clean and parasites off. Adding a water feature to your yard may help draw birds that don't feed from bird feeders. Bluebirds and swallows, for example, don't eat seed; their diet consists of insects. But all birds need water all throughout the year.

    The simplest water feature to add is a birdbath. Although some birdbaths are constructed with deep bowls, the water should not be more than 2 or 3 inches deep for birds to feel comfortable. Adding rocks or an overturned clay saucer to the center creates a shallower section for smaller birds. When choosing a birdbath, check to see that it has a rough surface to provide traction for bathing birds.

    For colder climates, a heated birdbath is essential. While fully heated models are available, heater accessories can be added to your existing birdbaths.

    Shelter

    Birdhouses, which actually are nest boxes, generally attract nuthatches, woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, and wrens. Other species prefer nesting at the top of tall trees, within evergreen branches, or in a low-growing bush.

    You will have more success attracting birds to your birdhouses if you provide features that meet their preferences, according to the National Wildlife Federation. For example:

    • Chickadees and Titmice
      Requirements: 4" x 4" or 5" x 5" base x 8" high; hole: 1¼", centered 6" above the floor; color: earth tone; placement: 4-8' high in a small tree thicket.
      Habitat: These birds nest in dense natural habitat, such as thickets or stands of small trees.
    • Wrens
      Requirements: 4" x 4" or 4" x 6" base, 8" high; hole: 1-1/8", centered 6" above the floor; color: earth tone; placement: 5-10' high on a post or hanging in a tree.
      Habitat: House wrens prefer their birdhouses hanging from a small tree in the middle of a yard, or along the border of an open yard. Carolina wrens will go into a birdhouse that is well hidden in natural habitat.
    • Bluebirds
      Requirements: 5½" x 5½" x 10" high; hole: 1½", centered 6" above the floor; color: earth tone; placement: 5-10' on a post facing an open field (preferring east, north, south, and then west facing directions).
      Habitat: Bluebirds feed their young insects they capture in open, grassy fields. Their birdhouses are most acceptable if placed on a post that faces, or is very near, an open field where they can find food.

    The properly sized entrance hole to the birdhouse is particularly critical because it keeps out larger birds that could harm nesting baby birds. Once they've raised their brood and moved out, keep the birdhouse clean and in good condition to keep the babies safe and the birds coming back.