Time Flies: Migratory Birds Make Their Way Back
Turn your property into a sanctuary for returning migratory birds
By Meghan Murphy-Gill
This time of year is all about the chirps, tweeps, and songs heard outside, which can only mean one thing: The birds are back! Migratory birds are part of the rich soundtrack to life out here. If you want to catch a glimpse of which bird has been making all that noise, now is the time to think about your outdoor space and lay the groundwork and seed for your favorite feathered friends.
Go With Greenery
Large trees, tall grasses, and broad shrubs provide the shelter that birds on the move seek. Decide which birds are most likely to visit your region and the plants they tend to seek out. Then, plant and install native species for variety and avoid cutting all the grass on your land—you’ll want to set up an area with tall grass or a brush pile to attract smaller songbirds, such as the Eastern Phoebe.
Feed the Flock
Install several feeders around your property to keep birds from crowding a single space. According to the Audubon Society, tight spaces can cause disease and parasites to spread between different species of birds, especially when feeders are filled with economical seed mixes. Variety attracts variety and that’s not always a good thing for birds. So choose your seed with care, selecting one type of seed. For example, Royal Wing Nyjer Seed attracts finches and pine siskins, and Black Oil Sunflower Seed is great for juncos, nuthatches, and chickadees.
Always thoroughly clean feeders and the surrounding areas to prevent disease and parasites from breeding and infesting. Use 10 percent non-chlorinated bleach solution at least once a month and rinse well with hot, soapy water to disinfect and sterilize potential problem areas.
Berry plants and bushes are also an excellent way to give migrating birds sustenance for the journey. Choose shrubs with fruit that make great snacks for birds, such as holly, juniper, and dogwood. Berry bushes and low shrubs also serve as a place for nesting. For birds, it’s like having a kitchen near the living room.
Give Them Shelter
Building birdhouses and nesting houses is a fun and educational opportunity for children and adults alike. First, decide which birds you want to attract to the yard so you can plan accordingly. Larger birds will need larger houses, for example. A simple plan can make this a family-friendly project.
Be sure to choose paint that helps camouflage the birdhouse and avoid painting the interior of the birdhouse, as varnish and paint fumes can be toxic to nesting birds. Finally, install the house away from areas where family pets like to hang out for the safety of the birds and your pets.
The Way to Water
Migratory birds need to be able to find a reliable water source so they can rest up, hydrate, and stay clean and healthy. Installing a birdbath is the easiest and most attractive way to give them what they need. There are beautiful decorative options for every yard décor, and you can get creative with a garbage can lid, an old winter sled, or anything that has a gentle slope that would allow water to pool no more than a few inches. Add gravel, stones, or sand to the bottom to allow birds to get a grip when they land.
It’s all about location, location, location for bird baths, especially if you hope to enjoy watching these creatures cool off. Place the bath somewhere visible from a kitchen window or patio seating. But be sure to keep the bath in a shaded area (to keep water cool) and away from places where predatory animals (like cats) may lurk.
Like with feeders, birdbaths need to be cleaned regularly to protect birds and pets from disease and parasites. Wipe out the bath every few days, remove debris, and add fresh water every few days. Adding an aerator or fountain feature allows for more time between cleanings—and moving water is highly attractive to birds.
Dim the Lights
Migratory birds can become attracted to and disoriented by lights, especially birds that navigate or hunt by the light of the moon and stars. Because migration is a critical time for birds, keeping light pollution to a minimum can only benefit them. At night, turn off outdoor lighting and use dark shades or curtains to keep indoor light from being too disruptive.
Keep Your Distance
While it’s easier to stay clear of some birds, like the red-tailed hawks that perch high in tall trees, to encourage more birds, it’s key to stay out of sight and not scare them away. But just because they can’t see you, it doesn’t mean you can’t see them. If you hope to make birding a regular hobby, invest in a good pair of binoculars and find a window from which to inconspicuously watch the birds. It keeps the birds safe and comfortable when you keep a safe and comfortable distance.
To learn more about migratory bird populations in the U.S., visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.
For help understanding what you need to attract birds in your area, visit your local Tractor Supply Co. and ask an associate for help.
Meghan Murphy-Gill is a writer who grew up traveling the United States but has called the Midwest home for the last 17 years.