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     Spring has arrived and the chorus of spring and summer songbirds is growing each day! The months ahead will provide some of the best bird watching opportunities of the year. Attracting birds has become the second most popular hobby in the nation. The most popular hobby, gardening is a natural extension of our love of birds. No wonder most bird lovers love to garden, and most gardeners love to watch birds! Feeding birds is the quickest way to attract a crowd, but habitat development is equally important. Planning a garden or landscaping your property can ultimately produce a greater variety of birds than all the supplemental feeding you ever do.
     The use of native plants, and zone hardy, noninvasive cultivars is catching on. Not only do native plants provide better food and cover than non-native species, they require far less maintenance once established.
In addition to providing food for birds throughout the year, native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants provide much needed nesting sites. Most birds require some dense cover in which to feel safe enough to raise a family. It is important to plant vegetation of different heights, encouraging more species to use your yard for feeding and nesting. Tall trees are used by Orioles and Warblers, shorter trees by Cardinals and Morning Doves. Large shrubs and hedges attract Grosbeaks, Catbirds, and Indigo Buntings. Low growing cover provides safe nesting spots for Towhees and Chipping Sparrows.
     Even with minimal habitat you can increase the number of beautiful birds in your yard. Although not all birds nest in birdhouses, some species appreciate man made homes. Adding nest boxes to your property will improve your chances of hosting a family of Chickadees or Nuthatches. Birds of the pond and prairie landscape like Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Purple Martins have become increasingly dependent on man made structures. Even Robins and Phoebes are inclined to take a nesting platform when offered in the right spot! If you live near a lake or stream Wood Ducks or even Mergansers may use a nest box put up near the water. A wooded lot is the perfect place for owls to raise their young. Both Barred Owls and Screech Owls will use a nest box placed high in an older tree. Along fields and meadows another raptor, the American Kestrel or Sparrow Hawk, will easily accept a home attached to a fence post or utility pole.
     For each species of cavity nesting bird there is a different house size and entrance hole dimension. Placing the nest box at the proper height in the right habitat helps attract the species the house was designed for. Each species of bird will defend a territory from others of it’s kind. While a Bluebird and a Tree swallow may live in harmony in houses placed side by side, the Bluebird will aggressively attack all other Bluebirds seen entering it’s home turf. Likewise, the Swallow will drive away all other Swallows. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows share the same habitat but use different foraging techniques and therefore they do not compete for the available food resources. When placing bird houses on your property keep the territory size of the desired bird species in mind. The average city lot may accommodate three or four Wren houses, but only one Bluebird house. While the many details of avian life may seem confusing at first, it all makes perfect sense to the birds. Many books are available to help you plan your wildlife landscaping and there are several excellent web sites devoted to habitat development.
     Most wild bird specialty stores are excellent sources of information and can help you choose the proper nest boxes for your property and suggest the best placement. And for those who are a little intimidated by the responsibility of being an avian landlord, I highly recommend the charming Wrens. Willing to nest almost anywhere and raising up to three broods a year, Wrens will sing their little hearts out all summer long!

Resources:
Landscaping for Wildlife
Woodworking for Wildlife
Carrol Henderson,
MN DNR Publications

Windstar Wildlife Institute
on line wildlife habitat resource
www.windstar.org

BirdSource
Audubon & Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Citizen Science Projects
and other bird resources
www.birdsource.org

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022