Birding has always been a popular hobby and with more people spending time at home this past year, interest in backyard birdwatching has skyrocketed. That’s good news for wild birds. Recent studies have shown that the North American bird population has declined precipitously in just the last few decades. Today there are almost three billion fewer birds here than there were in 1970. Backyard birding is raising awareness about this decline, and even better, it’s inspiring more and more people to turn their yards and garden spaces into welcoming habitats for their new feathered friends. Now’s the time to start thinking about inviting the birds home by creating a bird habitat garden.

In an effort to limit the impact humans and their communities have on the environment, national homebuilder and developer Taylor Morrison has teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to restore and protect wildlife, including birds, in their communities nationwide as well as engage staff, residents, and the public in accessible and effective wildlife habitat stewardship and conservation.

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Spring is upon us, and with it brings the return of migratory birds that spend the winter months in southern locales with milder temperatures and steadier food sources. It also means that some of the migratory species that spent the winter where you live will be heading north to their nesting habitat. Either way, many bird species are on the move. Here are some ways to roll out the welcome mat for migratory and year-round resident species in your own backyard.

Create a Bird Buffet

One of the easiest ways to attract birds to your yard is to put out a bird feeder. There are many kinds of feeders and foods that will draw in birds from seed blends to suet to sugar-water “nectar.” Just keep in mind that only some bird species will visit feeders, and even then, birds only use feeders to supplement natural food sources. Remember, feeders are not a replacement for natural wildlife habitats. Loss of natural habitat has been a major factor in bird decline over the years.

You can create a natural habitat “buffet” for the wild bird species in your yard by planting native plants. Your local birds evolved with native plants over millennia and rely on them for survival. Seeds, berries, nuts, and fruits produced by native plants are key food sources for many bird species. Blooming plants offer nectar to species of hummingbirds and orioles. The lifecycles of native plants and wild birds are intertwined. Native plants bloom and produce seeds, berries, and nuts in sync with seasonal migrations and feeding patterns of birds. Another benefit of planting native plants is that unlike bird feeders they never need cleaning or refilling.

It’s not just the edible parts of plants that feed birds either. One of the most critical ways that native plants provide food for birds is by supporting insects and other invertebrates. The majority of backyard birds, some 96% of them, eat insects and rely on them as the primary food source for their young. If you want birds to visit or even live in your yard, you have to attract insects. Without bugs, you won’t have birds. And native plants support exponentially more insects than typical non-native ornamental garden plants.

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Ask for native plants at your local garden center or visit a nursery that specializes in them. NWF’s Native Plant Finder will give you a list of the top native plants that support the most caterpillars — and the birds that rely on those caterpillars to feed their young — that naturally grow in your zip code.

With that in mind, you should avoid spraying pesticides. Whether they are insecticides that kill birds’ food sources and possibly the birds themselves or herbicides that kill off native plants, both are detrimental to wildlife species’ survival. Instead, practice tried-and-true organic gardening techniques to keep your yard pesticide-free.

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Add Water

Like humans, birds need clean water for drinking. They also need it for bathing. When birds can’t bathe, their feather condition deteriorates. And without healthy feathers, survival becomes difficult.

The simplest way to offer water for both drinking and bathing is with a birdbath. There are many options to choose from, but really, any shallow dish will work. Water in a birdbath should be 1-3 inches deep, any deeper and most birds won’t be able to use it. You can place the bath on a pedestal, hang it in a tree or just place it on the ground. You can even get more sophisticated baths that attach to deck or balcony railings. Some even warm the water to keep it from freezing in cold temperatures.

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It’s important to empty and refill the bath with clean, fresh water at least every few days. Once a week, you should clean and disinfect the bath. Just handwash it with dish soap and hot water and rinse thoroughly. If you’re worried about mosquitoes, don’t be. It takes mosquitoes about 5-7 days to change from aquatic larvae into winged adults, so cleaning the bath every few days will eliminate any risk.

Offer Cover and Nesting Spots

Wild birds need hiding places from predators and places to shelter from the elements when the weather turns bad. Just like your plants will provide food, they will also provide this important cover that birds need to survive. If you have large canopy trees, underplant them with smaller understory tree species and shrubs to create vertical habitat. Wildflower patches, meadows, and prairie gardens also provide great cover for ground-foraging birds. The key here is to plant densely. Nothing but a bare lawn provides no cover for birds.

The last thing that wild birds need is a place to nest. Raising the next generation is what birds are focused on right now. The same trees and shrubs that offer food and cover will also be nesting places for birds. Some species build nests in the branches while others nest in tree holes, called cavities. As vital as it is to plant trees and shrubs, it’s also important to protect the mature ones already on your property. Even dead and declining trees offer important nesting habitats, so long as fallen branches or trunks don’t pose any danger to people or property.

For cavity-nesting bird species, which includes bluebirds, chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, tree swallows, wrens, and even some warblers, owls, and ducks, you can mimic natural nesting cavities by installing a nesting box or birdhouse.

Be warned, many nesting boxes aren’t made properly for birds. A quality nesting box should be made of wood or other natural materials; have ventilation at the top, drainage holes at the bottom, dimensions, and entry hole sized for specific bird species; and should never have a perch. Perches are purely ornamental and give predators and invasive species easier access to the nesting box. Nesting boxes should also be mounted at the proper height for the bird species they are designed for, and where possible, include predator guards to protect baby birds.

Enjoy the Birds and Be Rewarded

Once you create a thriving habitat garden that provides a natural source of food, water, cover, and places to raise young, it’s time to sit back and enjoy watching all of the birds that are going to visit, and maybe even make your yard or garden home. There’s no better place to connect with nature than right outside your own door.

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Once you provide those four components of habitat and commit to maintaining it naturally (e.g., no pesticides) NWF will recognize the space as a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” that’s part of its Garden for Wildlife movement. Through their unique partnership, Taylor Morrison and NWF have certified more than 50 open spaces with more than 3,000 acres of native habitats in the homebuilder’s communities, which adheres to these standards and promotes native plants, wildlife, and pollinators that are vital to the ecosystem. Once your garden is certified, you can post a yard sign designating your space as a habitat for birds and other wildlife neighbors that helps spread the word that we can all get involved in restoring habitat. The birds will thank you.

Source: David Mizejewski/YouTube

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