How to Attract Them and Care for Them
All who have closely studied birds claim that the set by the good which they do. On the other damage, they may do in gardens is more than offhand, gardeners without an intimate knowledge of birds are generally quick to recognize the harm done and slow to acknowledge the services that they render. A fruit grower, moreover, may regard as entirely beneficial a certain kind of bird whose activities from the point of view of the vegetable grower are mainly injurious. Each of the two is correct from his special point of view.
There can, however, be no doubt that, taken as a whole, birds do infinitely more good than harm, and the gardener therefore should as a rule protect birds. It should be remembered that whereas any petty mischief done by birds is at once evident and often exceedingly annoying, there is nothing to indicate the immense good they are doing all through the year throughout the country. Nearly all our smaller wild birds live entirely on insects and their larvae during the summer months.
The much-maligned English sparrow is as industrious in his insect hunting as any bird during late summer, and nearly all wild birds, including the grain eaters, feed their young almost entirely on insect food.
Special Problems. Because of the disease-transmission hazard it may be unwise to attract numbers of birds continually to the same spot. This danger is known to threaten species that pick from the ground food that may have been contaminated by the droppings of their own or other kinds of birds (including poultry); and it must be assumed to exist in some degree for species that take food exposed on shelves or in any place where fouling by feces is possible. The remedy would seem to be to provide food in hoppers and other containers designed to guard against or entirely prevent contamination. Wild birds readily learn to feed from such devices.
Feeding waterfowl also is hazardous in bringing together heavily parasitized and healthy birds and, if long-continued in the same place, must be detrimental. When done in fall, it may induce the birds to remain where freezing later renders natural food supplies unavailable and so make them dependent upon the continuation of feeding. It would seem best, therefore, to avoid feeding waterfowl except during emergencies.
Another drawback to bird-attracting activities is that they may bring into a restricted area more birds than the natural food resources will support, in which event any interruption to feeding is disastrous, particularly if it occurs when the adults have young in the nest that they are forced to desert.
Where pronounced dependence on feeding stations prevails, it is apparent that birds may be both diseased and pauperized. The results are no more admirable than in certain well-known instances of big-game over populations, the encouragement of which is now generally admitted to be a mistake.
In any case, full consideration should be given to the advantages and disadvantages of feeding before it is undertaken. Once begun, it should never slacken while there is need. Those desiring the local increase of birds should be prepared to do all that may be required to banish hazards to the creatures they seek to befriend.
Encouraging local over populations of birds may have results directly injurious to man’s interests, in that the increased demand for food may cause the birds to resort to the products of garden, field, or orchard. The idea of planting fruit or seed-bearing species to entice birds away from similar cultivated crops seems a good one —and putting it into practice is said to have had beneficial results in some places. On the other hand, it is noticeable that damage to crops often ensues where birds are concentrated by an abundance of some other food. Damage by birds almost always results where there is local overabundance. The economic phase, therefore, should always be given careful attention.
Despite all drawbacks, however, attracting birds has advantages. The premises with a large bird population certainly will be freer from insects and weeds than a comparatively birdless area. If kingbirds, purple martins, mockingbirds, grackles, and other pugnacious species are domiciled, they will be of aid in driving away crows and hawks that might prey upon poultry chicks or on wild birds and their eggs and young.
The greatest reward from attracting birds—doubtless also in most cases the main incentive for the practice—is human enjoyment. The activity, beauty, and songs of birds supply life, color, and charm. Birds ornament the homestead, entertain the senses, and afford natural companionship that is a joy to the majority of mankind. They are so keen and sprightly that
they compel attention, so intensively alive and so in harmony with their environment as to inspire the beholder. In fact, they are such a thoroughly enjoyable feature of life that most people would not willingly part with them. The attempt to preserve and protect birds and to increase their numbers arises, therefore, from choice, but all of these things should be done in a way that will jeopardize neither the welfare of the birds nor that of their human neighbors.
Means of Attracting Birds
Landscaping. Although elaborate landscaping of premises makes them attractive to birds, simpler treatment also is effective. Trees, shrubs, and vines are important in rendering a place livable for birds, but open spaces also are necessary. Openings allow plenty of light to reach the plants, permitting them to make luxuriant growth, increase their crops of fruit or seed, and supply more pasturage for insects, thus both directly and indirectly augmenting the food supply for birds. Amply crowned trees, well-rounded clumps of shrubbery, luxuriant vines in a few tangled thickets or on deeply mantled walls, and well-grassed, sunny openings combine to make a home where birds may thrive in numbers and variety. Premises affording sunlight and shade, cover and food, water and safety have the essentials for attracting birds. Choice of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants for landscaping may well be made from the ranks of those that are notable in providing cover, food, and other necessaries of bird life.
Security During the Nesting Season. Birds as a rule not only do not want bird neighbors too near but are impatient also of human meddling and therefore should be granted as much privacy as possible during the incubating and brooding periods. Nests built in shrubbery are especially likely to come to a bad end if the birds are frequently disturbed.
If bobolinks, meadowlarks, pheasants, Hungarian partridges, bobwhites, and other ground-nesting birds are to be favored, grass in the nesting fields should not be cut during the breeding season. When mowing must be done, flush the birds from their nests in advance; any nests you find may be preserved in small clumps of growth that you have spared for the nesting purpose.
Supplying Nesting Material. The home making of birds can be aided in many cases by the provision of nesting material. Natural materials of some sorts are not so abundant as formerly, and substitutes are welcome. Rags, ravelings, and twine can be used by many birds, but short pieces only should be furnished in order to avert danger to the birds from tangling. Excelsior, straw, hay, cotton, and even hair (as used in plastering) and feathers may be supplied. A convenient way of exposing these to the birds, which at the same time prevents waste, is to use holders similar to those in which suet is placed for winter feeding; an ordinary wire broiler is excellent for the purpose. If thoroughly wet clay be made available, it will be eagerly taken by robins, phoebes, and swallows.
Providing Thickets for Nest Sites. Besides the birds that build their nests on the twigs or limbs of trees, in cavities of the trunks, or in nest boxes placed in trees, there are others that can be helped by providing thickets similar in character, if not in size, to those they naturally frequent. Density seems to be the most desirable feature of a bird thicket, as it gives protection from enemies. Shrubs interlaced with vines are effective and rather easily provided. In the earlier years of their growth, shrubs should be pruned so as to form numerous crotches that will support nests. The kinds, of plants to use depend upon the locality, but those producing fruits eaten by the birds are most desirable, as they serve a double purpose.
Supplying Water. Nothing has more potent attraction for birds during hot we4ther than drinking and bathing places, and in droughts a water supply may save the lives of both adults and nestlings.
In addition to food (discussed later), water—running water if possible—should always be kept available for birds; a faucet left trickling into a basin is sufficient. It will be found difficult, particularly in flat country, to keep birds from the fruit if they are given no alternative way of assuaging their thirst. There is overwhelming evidence that birds are most destructive where no provision is made for them. If they are fed and attracted, and a corner of the garden is set aside as a bird sanctuary, or a window sill equipped as a bird window, they cease to be seriously troublesome.
Birds like to bathe in the spray of a water sprinkler or even in that of a hose in hand, and keeping areas well-watered also increases the food supply (earthworms and cutworms and other insects) for various birds, or at least makes it more available. Further, a trickle of water may make the mud that is needed by robins and cliff or eaves swallows in building their nests; a tiny spot of well-soaked clay will suffice.
Birdbath. Water may be provided in flower pot saucers or other small receptacles, but in these it must be frequently renewed. A bird bath of larger proportions but also readily cleanable and refillable is better. It should be a pool not more than a few inches deep, the bottom sloping gradually upward toward the edge. Both the bottom and the edge should be rough, so as to afford safe footing. A giant concrete saucer is an excellent device, or pools of various forms may be made of concrete or even of metal, if the surface is roughened or covered with gravel. The bird bath may be elevated or it may be placed on the ground if in an open space where skulking enemies cannot approach unnoticed.
Pools larger than the conventional bird bath have been used to good effect in attracting birds. One 4 by 10 ft., not too large for many a yard, has a greater appeal than the small bath and, if supplied with plants for shelter and oxygenation, will maintain small fishes that will keep it free from mosquitoes.
A water supply is appreciated in winter as well as in summer. If running water cannot be provided, that supplied should be warmed or have glycerin added to delay freezing and should be renewed at least daily. Still better, an elevated bird bath can be made freeze-proof by building beneath it a fireproof compartment, in which a kerosene lamp may be kept burning low. The lamp chimney should be tin to radiate the heat; it should have a mica plate over the top and a hole at one side near the lid. The lamp compartment should also have an opening near the bottom and one near the top to provide draft. Where electricity is available, a light bulb may be used as a source of heat.
Birdbaths vary considerably in size, design and cost, the more ornamental usually, being rather too deep to enable small birds to bathe. They are also often made of a material which, although capable of resisting the effects of frosts, will crack if the water within becomes frozen solid. Provision should be made for draining off the water.
When properly placed, a birdbath adds greatly to the attractiveness of a garden, and in planning the grounds the most suitable position for this feature should be considered. The best site is one in which the bath can be seen from the house porch or other sitting-out place. It should be close to trees or shrubs that provide perches and screening for birds; if some of these bear fruits enjoyed by birds, so much the better.
It may be mentioned that all bird bathing, however, is not in water; dust bathing also is popular. Turning the soil in a few small spots, preferably at the base of a sunny wall, will meet this need.
Providing Bird Houses. Modern tree surgery and the constant removal of old trees have resulted in a great diminution in the number of nesting sites for hole-frequenting birds. Fortunately, most of these birds will utilize artificial nest cavities or bird houses. All persons deeply interested in the welfare of birds will see that plenty of bird boxes are available; it is far better to do this than to lament the passing of the interesting hole-dwelling species.
Bird houses may be purchased from numerous dealers, or they may be built at home, as they may be almost endlessly varied. The sizes useful for various birds, plans for making, and illustrations of numerous kinds are given later in this article. A bird house needs only partial shade, and houses on poles usually are taken. Martins prefer a house standing apart from trees. These are the only birds occupying colony houses; homes for other birds should have one room only. Entrances to boxes should be sheltered by projecting roofs and should face away from the prevailing wind and rain storms.
Origin of the Nest-Box Idea. Discussions of the origin of the nest-box idea have placed the date at most a few centuries back, but circumstantial evidence indicates that it is much older. Certain uncivilized tribes have the greatest facility for taming wild creatures, and often their homes are shared by a variety of furred and feathered pets. This is no modern development; it is an ingrained trait of the people, and is the very thing that resulted in the subjection of all domesticated animals, a process the beginnings of which are lost in antiquity. It is certain that primitive man had pets, among them birds, and without doubt he provided nesting facilities for some of them.
In the cradle of the human race, Asia, we should expect to find indications of primitive care for birds, and the expectation is not disappointed. Early records of Asia Minor testify to the use of doves or pigeons for carrying messages, and such use necessitates the maintenance of houses for the birds; these must have been provided in very early stages of the domestication of the birds, certainly at a remote period. The shelves for swallows in Japanese temples and the feeding towers with nesting places maintained by the Brahmans of India are no innovation; on the contrary, they must have, among these nature worshipers, an antiquity going back to the very beginnings of their religions.
Use of Nest Boxes. It is said that the early colonists found that some of the more agricultural tribes of eastern American. Indians hung up gourds for purple martins on trees trimmed to bare stubs for the purpose. How old the practice is we have no means of knowing, but it has been continued by white men to this day in but slightly modified form. The provision of houses for purple martins and shelves for cliff (eaves) swallows and barn swallows dates back to colonial times.
Since the modern movements for bird study and protection have been in progress, the number of people furnishing homes for the birds has increased immensely in every quarter of our land. Their success in attracting bird tenants has been great, and their hospitality has been accepted by almost every kind of bird whose original home can be imitated by man.
The roll of species in the United States and Canada known to have nested in bird boxes or on supporting devices built for them now includes at least fifty names, as follows:
Housing Bird Enemies of Insects. Adoption of bird houses as a means of enlisting the services of birds as allies in combating an insect pest was successfully tried out in the case of an outbreak of the larch sawfly (Nematus erichsonii) near Manchester, England. From 1908 to 1914, 400 boxes were placed and 81 per cent of them occupied. It was considered that birds did a great deal toward the ultimate control of the pest. In the United States, boxes have been put up about many cranberry bogs to attract tree swallows as enemies of cranberry moths. In some parts of the South it has long been the practice to supply plenty of gourd nests for martins about fields for the good the birds do in feeding on crop pests. The use of bird boxes to minimize damage by woodpeckers to telephone poles, houses, and other structures also has been tried to some extent.
Principles of Nest-Box Construction
When one recalls the unusual, inconvenient, and dangerous sites sometimes chosen by hole-nesting birds to conduct their family affairs, it would appear that almost any facility, however crude, might serve as an inducement to nest building. Since a house wren may nest in a discarded tin can, an old hat, the empty sleeve of a scarecrow, or the cranial cavity of a weathered cow’s skull, it apparently would not hesitate to use anything in the shape of a nest box.
The actual needs of hole-nesting birds are few, and may often be met by a small expenditure of time and work. To make the proffered nesting facilities safer, however, and probably more comfortable for the occupants, certain principles of construction, design, and location should be observed. A well-built bird house should be durable, rainproof, cool, and readily accessible for cleaning. Furthermore, by adopting high standards of neatness and rustic beauty in construction, bird houses may be made not only to serve the strictly utilitarian purpose of encouraging beneficial species but also to add a touch of attractiveness to the dooryard.
Materials. For anyone wishing to construct his own bird houses, wood is by all means the best building material. Metal should be avoided, as it gets intensely hot when exposed to the rays of the sun. Pottery nest boxes have some points in their favor but are not readily made in the average home workshop. Nest boxes constructed of tar paper or similar products have no particular advantage over wooden ones, and the use of these materials is impracticable for some of the larger houses. In the choice of wood, an easily workable kind, as cypress, pine, or yellow popular, is preferable; the first-named is the most durable. Sawmill waste (rough slabs with the bark on) furnishes cheap and satisfactory material for rustic houses.
Paint. Where a rustic finish is not sought, paint is unobjectionable and greatly enhances the weathering qualities of bird houses. Modest tones, as brown, gray, or dull green, are generally to be preferred. Martin houses and others that are placed in exposed situations, however, may be painted white to reflect heat.
Protection from Rain. Roofs should be made with sufficient pitch to shed water readily; or, if level, or nearly so, they should have a groove cut across the under face of the overhanging part to prevent water from draining back into the interior of the house. The overhang should extend 2 to 3 in. so as to protect the entrance hole from driving rain. The opening of the nest cavity itself may be bored at an upward slant to aid in keeping out water. A strip of metal or roofing paper often helps to make the ridge of the nest box thoroughly waterproof; flat roofs should either be wholly covered with some such material or else heavily painted. In latitudes where freezing weather is the rule in winter, bird houses will last longer if the sides are prolonged beyond the bottom of the box, thus draining off water that otherwise might freeze in the crack between bottom and sides and wedge them apart. To provide for the contingency that some water may get inside the box, a few small holes may be made in the bottom.
Protection from Heat. If attention be paid to the principle of cool construction, the suffering of nestlings during periods of excessive heat may be lessened. Wood is in itself a fairly good heat insulator; but it must be remembered that the interior of the average nest box is small, and a single opening near the top permits little ventilation. One or two small auger holes through the walls near the top of the box will give limited circulation of air without producing drafts. A double roof or a compartment above the nest proper will serve as an excellent insulator. In the colony houses built for martins this feature can be easily included, and the added comfort and safety afforded the nestlings will more than repay for the extra work. In martin houses, however, owing to the low position of the entrance hole and the possibility of producing objectionable drafts, ventilating holes in the compartments themselves should be left out entirely or limited to one of small size near the top.
Accessibility. All bird houses should be placed so as to be readily accessible and built so as to be easily opened and cleaned. To those interested in studying the life history of nestlings, a readily opened box is a great aid. A number of arrangements may be used to permit inspection of the nest, several of which, as applied to simple houses. A pane of glass sliding in a groove just beneath the removable side will allow observations without subjecting the birds to exposure or causing a disturbance of the nest material. Other reasons for desiring accessibility to the interior of bird houses are mentioned in the section on sanitation.
Entrances. Since entrance holes for bird houses are usually made near the top, the lumber used, if dressed, should be roughened, grooved, or cleated to assist the young in climbing to the opening. Houses longer than high are comfortable and convenient and seem to be liked by some species, particularly by birds that do not have an inborn preference for the type used either by woodpeckers or by birds that are partial to old woodpecker holes. Perches at the entrances seem more of an assistance to enemies than a requirement for the occupants.
Dimensions and Elevation. The simplicity of construction of the single-room bird house does away with the necessity of detailed working drawings in most cases. Table 1 gives the proper dimensions for the various species and the height at which the boxes should be placed above the ground. The design may follow any of the types recommended later in this article.
|Height above ground”|
5 X 5
5 X 5
8 X 8
Principles of Location of Bird Houses
Because a bird house is not used the first season it is erected is no indication that it is faulty in construction or improperly placed. There may already be more nesting facilities than the resident bird population can occupy.
From a statistical study of the subject, Forbush concluded that failure to attract feathered tenants may be attributed mainly to the following faults: (1) Entrance holes too small for the birds desired; (2) boxes put up in dense woods; (3) boxes placed in trees, and therefore accessible to birds’ enemies, instead of on posts or poles; and (4) care not taken to protect birds nesting in boxes. Three of these faults concern site—the second and third obviously, and the fourth in-directly, for it is manifestly easier to protect a bird house and its occupants if it is readily reached. To be easily accessible, bird boxes should not be beyond the reach of an available ladder; those placed higher inevitably will be neglected. Houses on poles seem more acceptable than others to various birds, probably because they impress the birds as being safer. Isolated trees can actually be made safe with tree guards, but perhaps they do not look so to the birds. Fencing premises against predators probably will give such security that other precautions can be dispensed with.
To sum up, it would seem that houses should be fairly low, should not be put in dense woods, and seem more acceptable on poles than in trees. If possible, they should be placed in partial sunlight, the opening away from prevailing winds.
It is not well to have a large number of boxes on a limited area: Birds insist on territorial rights, especially in competition with other individuals of the same species; and if houses are too close together, conflicts between prospective tenants may result in none being occupied. The purple martin is the only native gregarious species that nests in bird boxes, and houses for colonies of these birds should be on poles well separated from trees or buildings. Tree swallows, however, are sociable and several individual boxes for them may be near together.
Suggestions for Homes for Various Kinds of Birds
Bluebirds. Bluebirds are among the least particular of bird tenants. Any of the types of nest boxes shown will meet their needs when built to the proper dimensions and well situated. Houses of rustic construction are also acceptable. Bluebirds are partial to orchards, and nest boxes may be placed either in the trees themselves or on nearby fence posts provided measures are taken to prevent attack by cats. A rather open and sunlit situation is preferable. The nest material, consisting mainly of dry grasses, is procured by the bird from natural sources.
Robins, Catbirds, and Thrashers. Where such natural sites as well-formed crotches are lacking, robins do not hesitate to use nesting platforms erected for them. These should be either of weathered lumber or of rustic type. They should be placed in partly shaded spots along the main branches of trees or else in the shelter of the overhanging eaves of a shed or porch roof. The birds will gather their nesting material from natural sources, though in periods of dry weather they may be aided by wetting a spot of bare clay nearby to supply the mud used in the foundation of their nests.
Catbirds and brown thrashers have been known to use nesting shelters acceptable to robins.
Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches. The needs of chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches are very similar. Being creatures of the woodland, all seem to prefer rustic homes built to simulate their natural abodes, but they will not refuse boxes made of weathered lumber. Old orchards and the borders of woodlands are the favorite hunting grounds of these birds, and nest boxes placed there are likely to be investigated. Chickadees often nest within a few feet of the ground, but nuthatches and titmice prefer a site of medium or considerable elevation. Food stations providing suet and nut meats placed on nearby trees are added inducements to these birds to take up their abode.
Warblers and Creepers. Small bark-covered houses closely fitted to the trunks of trees, may be attractive to birds of the nesting habits of the brown creeper and possibly the parula warbler, although no definite evidence is available of such nesting. Brown creepers have nested behind curved pieces of bark fastened to the trunk of a living tree. Natural nesting sites for these birds must be decreasing rapidly as the older shaggier-barked trees disappear.
Wrens. The house and Bewick’s wrens are the least fastidious of the hole-nesting birds. Almost any sort of a cavity will meet their needs, though boxes of small size with a horizontal slot instead of a round hole for an entrance are best. Wrens take equally well to houses of smooth lumber or of the rustic type. Longitudinal boxes make picturesque and very acceptable homes. Security for nestlings against the house cat may be provided by the structure, in which a passageway of variable length serves as an entrance to the nest lying below. Nest boxes of the dimensions recommended in table I are better than larger ones, as it seems to be the desire of house wrens to fill with a jumble of sticks whatever cavity they select. The slot opening permits the birds to carry in cumbersome material more readily. The slot or hole can well be 1 to 1 1/4 in. in diameter rather than the quarter-dollar-size (7/8-in.) opening often recommended.
Almost any partly sunlit spot about the door-yard or orchard is agreeable both to house and Bewick’s wrens. At Bell, Maryland, however, 62 of 102 nesting house wrens chose boxes placed in full sunlight. A supply of slender twigs about 3 in. long handily placed will aid the birds in collecting nest material. An abundance of wren houses is desirable, as frequently the birds will build “dummy” nests or leave one or more unfinished nests before completing one to their liking.
The Carolina wren, a somewhat larger bird, may be offered houses with slightly larger openings. It is a less familiar species about the immediate dooryard, and consequently nest boxes placed at the border of woodlands or about brushy areas are more likely to be used.
Swallows. Tree and violet-green swallows may be induced to forsake their natural nesting places in old woodpecker holes by the erection of nest boxes in suitable spots. A dead tree is an excellent site for such nests, and a number of boxes may be nailed to the same stub. Bodies of water hold a great attraction for swallows, and even a small pool in which they can bathe by dipping in flight will assist greatly in efforts toward establishing a colony in artificial homes.
Barn swallows will avail themselves of the open or partly covered nest shelves when these are placed under the sheltering eaves of buildings. Long shelves on brackets capable of supporting a number of nests will satisfy the gregarious tendencies of these birds, and similar shelves under the roofs of barns or sheds will be utilized if entrance holes are provided in the gables.
Eaves swallows may be encouraged to nest under overhanging roofs by providing a narrow shelf or cleat of rough lumber, which will give them a place to attach their mud nests.
Purple Martins. The gregarious nesting habits of purple martins afford the builder of bird houses opportunity to employ his skill and ingenuity in construction, and in the matter of design he may let his fancy run riot. All too frequently, however, such fancies are allowed to overshadow the important factors of accessibility and coolness in the structure. Martin houses are always an attraction to English sparrows and European starlings, and during the period of the year when the rightful tenants are not present the entrances to the nest cavities should be blocked or the houses taken down and stored. During the nesting season martins are apt to be successful in maintaining their property rights.
An idea that may be employed to advantage for a growing colony is in the house. Each story is made a unit, and the unifrom size permits the addition of other stories as needed. A colony may be started in 1 story of 8 rooms; 3 stories, providing 24 rooms, will accommodate about as many martins as would ordinarily be desired in one colony. The roof, built to the same lateral dimensions, attaches to the top story, all being held together by hooks and screw eyes. To clean, simply take the house apart and dump out the debris. The temperature within the house is kept down by air circulation through the passage formed by cutting out the floors of what would otherwise be central compartments. The roof, raised slightly above the top of the upper story, also permits the passage of air from the central shaft. The entire house with its support may be arranged for lowering in, or, if the pole is set firmly in the ground, a ladder leaned against it will permit taking down the house section by section. If built of soft pine, a 2-story house of this kind will weigh about 65 pounds. Houses for martins should be situated in open spaces and are usually painted white with neat trimming of another color. These birds are attracted by water, and the probability of their establishing colonies will be increased if a pond or stream is nearby.
The material for the walls and floors should be 3/4 in. thick and that for the roof and interior partitions 1/2 in. Lightweight roofing paper cut into shingles makes an efficient and neat roof covering. When facilities for gluing are available, the 3-in. porches may be made as extensions of the floors; otherwise they may be attached with angle irons.
Song Sparrows. Although a thicket usually affords all the necessaries for their housekeeping, song sparrows may at times be induced to take up their abode in a more artificial situation. A covered nest shelf is advised; either made of weathered lumber or painted a somber hue to harmonize with the background. It should be placed in the bird’s natural haunts.
House Finches. The house finch takes readily to homes of simple design and construction. Orchards or dooryards abounding in shrubbery, where brilliant sunshine alternates with cool shadows, are the house finch’s favorite habitat. Nest boxes may be placed in trees or on posts, or attached to buildings.
European Starlings. European starlings freely adopt artificial nesting facilities, and in areas where they are common their needs and their persistent efforts to take possession of what they want must be given consideration. Houses made of lumber are just as acceptable to them as those of rustic design. Although extremely wary, these birds show a marked preference for close association with human habitations during the breeding season. For this reason boxes erected in the dooryard are frequently occupied, though the presence of the birds there is usually rendered obnoxious by their rather careless housekeeping methods as the nestlings grow older. Boxes for starlings should be readily accessible for cleaning, an operation that is usually needed after the brood leaves. Two and sometimes three broods may be raised in the same box, although different adults may be involved.
Phoebes. Phoebes, in common with certain other highly insectivorous birds, show a liking for the vicinity of bodies of water. The broad timbers beneath a bridge are always an attraction, and when once these birds have taken up their abode in such a situation they are certain to return to it year after year. Away from this favorite environment nesting sites in the shape of mere shelves may be offered. These may be placed on the wall just within the large open doorway of a barn, or higher along the rafters, and even outside beneath the eaves, where protection may be had from above.
Crested Flycatchers. Very different from the phoebe’s are the needs of its relative, the crested flycatcher, whose original nesting sites were old woodpecker holes and natural cavities in trees. For these holes there may now be substituted boxes made of weathered or dull-painted lumber or fashioned from natural stubs or slabs. The latter types, when placed in typical situations, as in orchards, open woodland, or in trees in pastures, probably have a greater appeal than do homes made of lumber.
Woodpeckers. Of all the woodpeckers, flickers respond most readily to the lure of artificial nest boxes and will use boxes of painted or weathered lumber if other conditions are satisfactory. Boxes built to proper dimensions and conforming to any of the types are acceptable. A roughened interior is preferable to a smooth one, as it permits the growing young to clamber up to the entrance. A quantity of coarse sawdust, ground cork, or better, small chips, should cover the bottom of the box to a depth of 1 or 2 in., in order that the birds may shape a cavity for the eggs. The chips also assist the birds in keeping the nest clean. Should furnishing these be neglected, the birds are likely to mutilate the box in their efforts to produce their own supply. Flicker boxes should be placed above any immediately surrounding foliage. A dead stub makes an excellent support for the box and even a pole of the desired height will serve the purpose. The erection of boxes for flickers may be a means of preventing the damage caused by these birds when they persist in drilling holes into buildings in attempts to excavate nesting sites.
Red-headed woodpeckers, although preferring nest holes they themselves make, have been known to occupy man-made homes. Those fashioned from a natural stubare most acceptable, although bark-covered boxes also will serve the purpose. As with flicker houses, they should be placed above the immediately surrounding foliage. These birds are especially partial to oak groves. They are prone to drill holes in telephone poles, which cause breaks during windstorms. Supplying nest boxes will afford some protection to the poles.
The needs of downy and hairy woodpeckers are similar and vary only in the slight difference in size of nest cavity and entrance. Boxes of the covered with bark or made from natural stubs or slabs, are sometimes accepted when attached to the trunk of a tree not densely shaded. In the bottom of each box should be placed a small quantity of fine chips. A bit of open woodland or an orchard will furnish a desirable site for the nests.
Owls. Screech owls are not at all averse to using nesting facilities provided by man. Boxes of the weathered lumber and of proper size and stained a dull color or covered with bark, are acceptable. A grove, or, even better, an apple orchard, furnishes excellent sites for screech owl boxes. The birds will supply the few bits of wood and feathers needed to form a nest. It should be noted that in some instances these owls are destructive to other birds during the nesting season, but this is not believed to be true of saw-whet and barn owls.
The little saw-whet owls will take more readily to nest boxes fashioned from logs or those given a rustic appearance by a layer of bark. Chances are best for occupancy when the box is fastened to a substantial tree in an open grove.
Barn owls, now rare throughout much of their former range, may still be found in numbers locally. They take readily to man-made structures, often nesting in barn lofts and in towers. Simple wooden boxes of appropriate dimensions will answer the needs of these owls, which will furnish the scanty nest material used. The boxes may be attached to the trunks of rather large trees or may be placed about barn cupolas or in other little-frequented spots on buildings. For many years a pair of barn owls nested in one of the towers of the Smithsonian Institution, at Washington, D. C., in the center of an extensive park system.
Hole-nesting Waterfowl. With the cutting of the older stands of timber, nesting sites for wood ducks are becoming increasingly scarce. To encourage the return of these beautiful wild fowl nothing more important can be done than to furnish nest boxes. These may be made of weathered lumber and fastened to the trunks of substantial trees. Any of the made to the correct dimensions, are satisfactory. Even an ordinary nail keg with a suitable opening has served well as a wood duck abode. Lowland timber along a shady stream is a favorite breeding ground, although observations have indicated that the birds prefer nesting sites from 1/4 to 1/2 mile from water. Raccoons are more likely to invade boxes close to streams.
Goldeneyes, hooded mergansers, and buffleheads also may be aided through the erection of nest boxes, entrances of which should be 5 in. in diameter.
Experience on wildlife refuges has emphasized the need of choosing wood of light or medium weight for making the necessarily large boxes for wood ducks. Pine and cypress are satisfactory, but most of the hardwoods, particularly oak, increase the weight of the box to the point where it is difficult to handle and put in place. Sawdust or rotten wood should be placed in the bottom of boxes to a depth of about 4 in. for tree-nest: ing ducks. It is preferable that these boxes be installed in trees 12 in. or more in diameter.
Protection Against Enemies
The prime requisite for increasing the number of birds in any area is protection, and the results are in direct proportion to its thoroughness. Besides being insured against every form of persecution by humankind, birds must be defended from various natural foes.
Cats. The house cat is one of the greatest obstacles in efforts toward increasing bird life in urban or suburban communities. The mere presence of a cat, regardless of whether it is a habitual bird killer, has a demoralizing effect on nesting birds and may entirely defeat the most energetic efforts to attract them and increase their numbers. Young birds just out of the nest are easy prey and may arouse the predatory instincts of the most docile and well-mannered house cat. During the nesting season even well-trained house pets must be kept away from the vicinity of bird nests; and vagrant animals must be carefully guarded against or dealt with summarily.
A bird house may be protected by use of a sheet-metal guard encircling the supporting pole or tree. This may be either a cone or a cylinder about 18 in. long, tacked closely to the support and placed high enough to prevent cats from springing from the ground and gaining a hold above it. Iron pipes as nest supports are catproof. A far-overhanging and sloping roof close over the nest opening also is a partial protection against cats. In some situations wire screen of a mesh large enough to permit the passage of the bird may be used to enclose the box in such a way as to prevent cats from reaching the nest. A more effective but expensive protection involves the use of vermin-proof fences built of strongly woven wire of not more than 11/2-in. mesh. Such fences should be about 6 ft. high with an outward overhang of 2 ft. at the top.
Under some conditions vagrant cats obtain much of their food during spring and summer from bird life and had best be eliminated from areas where birds are being encouraged. In thickly settled regions poisoning or shooting is not recommended, but traps can be used effectively.
Dogs. The dog also is a hazard to nestlings in spring, but, because it kills with one swift bite and because it almost never carries its victim around as the cat does, it usually escapes detection. Pet dogs should be restrained during nesting time.
Squirrels and Mice. At times white-footed mice and squirrels, particularly red squirrels, become a serious menace to nesting birds. Both eggs and young birds are eaten, and in search for these the squirrels frequently enlarge the opening to the nest box. The tree guards will keep squirrels from ascending isolated trees or posts, and circlets of sheet metal placed around entrance holes will prevent them from entering boxes having openings that they must first enlarge. Some observers assert that these metal circlets make it difficult for birds to obtain a footing at the nest hole, but this objection can be overcome by fitting them on the inside. It is well also to see that the circlets have no sharp edges or jagged projections to injure the birds.
Houses suspended on wires beyond jumping range from solid objects are immune to attacks by squirrels, cats, and mice, and are occupied by some birds. Occasionally squirrels that are particularly troublesome have to be shot or trapped.
English Sparrows. The ubiquitous English sparrow, a source of no little exasperation to those seeking to attract native birds, also must be discouraged. Competition of sparrows with other hole-nesting species can be prevented effectively only by reducing their numbers. Persistent destruction of their nests will discourage these birds, but at the slightest relaxation in vigilance they will re-establish themselves. When sparrows have taken up an abode in a bird house, the female may be caught by closing the entrance during the night. Solution of the difficulty, however, lies in an aggressive campaign against the sparrow, carried out preferably during the winter months, with the object of materially reducing or eliminating the breeding population for the next season.
European Starlings. European starlings present a problem somewhat similar to that of the English sparrow in the eyes of those who look upon them mainly in the light of their transgressions against native species. These birds are extremely persistent when engaged in a controversy over the ownership of a nesting site and are usually victorious. Their insectivorous habits, however, place them in the van of birds that are considered effective controlling agencies of ground-frequenting insect pests. When not too abundant, starlings are a distinct asset about the garden, and it will pay to provide nest boxes for their use.
House Wrens. Although so praiseworthy as to food habits, house wrens sometimes interfere seriously with the nesting operations of other birds, even to the extent of puncturing and thus destroying their eggs. It is possible that these little busybodies have received too much encouragement in some localities. Where trouble is observed between them and other species of birds that it is desired to foster, bird houses suitable only for wrens can be reduced in number, or, if necessary, removed entirely.
Other Enemies. Red-headed woodpeckers, blue jays, purple grackles, magpies, crows, and other birds occasionally destroy eggs and young to a considerable extent. When the offending bird is not protected by law, the remedy is elimination by shooting. Marauding raccoons and opossums often can be forestalled by the use of tree guards.
Sanitation of Bird Houses
The desirability of having all bird houses built so as to be readily opened for inspection has been noted previously. This feature is a necessity in regions infested by the gypsy moth, as all possible hiding places for the egg masses of this species must be examined. The tussock moth and other insect pests also may place their eggs or cocoons in bird houses, and it will be to the advantage of the owner as well as of the birds if the boxes are regularly inspected and cleansed of all intruders, including mud daubers and paper wasps, bees, mice, and flying squirrels. The insects can be stupefied by fumes of carbon bisulfide, carbon tetrachloride, sulfur, or ordinary smoke and disposed of as desired. The small rodents can be dumped out unceremoniously in the hope that the birds will take possession before they return, or, if it seems necessary, they can be killed.
Houses should be repaired and cleaned just before the nesting season and inspected periodically so long as birds are about. Birds are subject to parasites, some of which, as fleas, bird lice, and bird flies, are usually mere nuisances, though others, as the larvae of certain flesh flies, often are a menace to nestlings and sometimes are so prevalent as to cause general mortality over a considerable area. Houses infested by these pests may be treated with liberal applications of derris or pyrethrum powder, special attention being given to the nest. The feathers of nestlings also can be powdered. In case fly larvae are discovered in time, any that are actually attached to the nestlings may be removed and a mild antiseptic applied to the wounds.
It is advisable to clean nest boxes immediately after broods have left, even if the parent birds show signs of using the house for another family. Old eggs and dead nestlings will thus be gotten rid of and parasites kept down. The material removed should be placed on a paper and burned. After cleaning, spray the interior well with cresol to destroy any pests that may have been overlooked. On the whole, clean nest boxes have a better chance of being occupied, and certainly the prospects for rearing the next brOod are improved.
So far as bird parasites are concerned, sanitation of the houses can be profitably supplemented by ample provision for water and for dust or sand baths. These are nature’s means of keeping down body vermin.
Building Shelters for Roosting
Compared with those interested in bird protection in Europe, Americans have sadly neglected one important matter in bird conservation—the provision of suitable roosting quarters, which have great value during periods of cold weather. The nest boxes left up throughout the year fill this need in part, but much more can be done. The removal of thickets and hollow trees in which numbers of birds formerly sought refuge from the elements and from enemies has greatly increased the need of warm and safe quarters on inclement nights. A large hollow tree partitioned into apartments may become the haven for a number of birds belonging to several species, as was demonstrated some years ago in an interesting manner when a well-known naturalist constructed an artificial hollow tree to which he would often repair to study the ways of the nightly visitors. Although nothing so pretentious as this is necessary to fill the needs of birds in a community, there is no question that proper housing will greatly reduce the winter mortality among them.
Woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, starlings, and owls will readily avail themselves of shelters, and doubtless many species not hole-nesters would use such cavities. The benefits accruing from the provision of roosting shelters may not be so apparent as in the case of nest boxes, but they are nonetheless real. Several of our woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice have the habit of using old nests for winter quarters, and no doubt they will utilize nest boxes or roosting houses for the purpose, especially such of the latter as are constructed for individual birds.
Roosting boxes should be waterproof and firmly attached to their supports. Placed at a height of 8 or 10 ft., with a southerly exposure for the entrance, they will meet the needs of most birds. They may well be located in a sheltered spot to give added warmth, and should have the customary cat and squirrel guards in areas where these animals are apt to be troublesome. Contrary to the principles of nest construction, the entrance need not be near the top. A lower entrance, in fact, will have a tendency to let what warmth accumulates rise and be retained at the top. The perches within should be arranged so that none is directly over another. Such roost boxes may be of variable size, but one 8 or 10 in. square and 3 ft. high will provide shelter for several small birds. An entrance hole 3 in. in diameter will meet the needs of the smaller birds, while owls are better cared for by supplying individual boxes with larger openings. Sanitation should follow the lines laid down for nest boxes.
The environment as a whole must be satisfactory in order to hold birds, but it is safe to say that food is the most important single offering that can be made.
The Right Food For Different Birds. It is essential to provide the right sort of food to suit different appetites—suet for the insect eaters; millet, sunflower seeds, wheat and other grains for the seed eaters; and various table scraps, sliced apples, raisins, and lettuce and the like for those that prefer them. If the proper foods are given, a garden may be made a rendezvous for sufficient wild birds to delight the nature lover. It will be found, too, that such a garden suffers less from birds than other gardens adjoining—as they satisfy their hunger on the food that is so readily available, whereas in other gardens they are driven to eat whatever is growing.
Well-fed Birds Do Less Damage. Experience has shown that many acts of petty destructiveness on the part of wild bird life are caused by hunger—particularly in the early spring. Hungry birds tear blossoms to bits, just as thirsty birds, which by nature are not fruit eaters, peck ripe fruits. If that acute hunger is satisfied by food supplies at bird-feeding stations, such mischief is eliminated.
Insects and their larvae, which in summer are the principal food of many birds and almost the sole subsistence of most nestlings, are usually sufficiently abundant on well-landscaped premises that provide both open spaces and thickets and vigorous growths of herbs and vines, shrubs and trees. On game-bird farms, dense growths of vegetation, mostly grasses and clovers, are developed especially for the sake of the insects they will produce to feed the young birds.
Birds may also be supplied with food by means of catering, the most familiar phase of which is winter feeding, and by planting trees, shrubs, and herbs that produce the seeds or fruits they relish.
Birds respond most readily to man’s hospitality during the season when the natural food supply is at its lowest ebb. Winter feeding, which in emergencies may be the means of saving many bird lives, has become very popular and has resulted in a better understanding of birds by mankind. Those who desire to have birds about their homes should not feel, however, that their power to attract them with food is gone when cold weather is over. Winter feeding easily passes into summer feeding, and experience proves that some birds gladly avail themselves throughout the year of this easy mode of getting a living. Broken shells of hen’s eggs are said to be relished, especially prior to and during the nesting season, and, when clean and sweet chopped suet is kept available, it is sometimes freely used by birds to feed their nestlings.
The foods commonly used in catering to the birds include suet or other fat, pork rinds, bones with shreds of meat, cooked meats, cured cheese, chopped hard-boiled eggs, mealworms, cut-up apples, bird seed, buckwheat, crackers, crumbs, coconut meat, cracked or whole corn and popcorn, corn bread, corn meal, broken dog biscuits, bread, doughnuts and pastry, fresh and dried fruits, hemp seed, hominy, millet, cracked nuts and nut meats of all kinds, whole or rolled oats, peppers, pumpkin or squash seeds, scratch feeds, screenings, sunflower seeds, and wheat. The menu offered at any one time or place need not be complex; choice of a few things can be made from what is most readily available.
The following list gives groups of nongame birds commonly attracted by catering and the kinds of foods they readily accept. “Kinds of foods” should be interpreted to include similar substances listed in the preceding paragraph.
Nongame Birds and the Kinds of Foods
Woodpeckers. Suet, cracked nuts, corn.
Jays. Suet, cracked nuts, corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds.
Titmice, chickadees, nuthatches. Suet, cracked nuts, shelled and broken peanuts, sunflower seeds, bread crumbs.
Mockingbirds, catbirds, thrashers, hermit thrushes, robins. Cut apples and oranges, currants, raisins, bread crumbs.
Starlings.) Cut apples, currants, raisins, suet, scratch feed, table scraps.
Blackbirds, cardinals, towhees. Sunflower seeds, corn, shelled and broken peanuts, scratch feed. Juncos, finches, native sparrows. Scratch feed, millet, wheat, screenings, small seed mixtures, bread crumbs.
‘ Many people do not wish to feed starlings, but it is difficult to avoid doing so unless some of the birds in flocks visiting a feeding station are killed.
Food cakes attract a variety of birds. They may be made from a number of ingredients, among them corn meal, oatmeal, or other ground grains, bread crumbs, chopped peanuts or other nuts, raisins, and currants. They are prepared by scalding or partly cooking the cereals, combining with eggs, and baking, or by mixing with melted suet. Sometimes honey or other thick sweetening is added. The cakes are used whole, crumbled, or in containers. The food mixture before hardening may be put in small cans, coconut larders, or holes in food sticks.
If desired, earthworms, mealworms, ant eggs, and cage-bird foods may be provided for insect-eating birds, but they are luxuries. The natural food supply for the insect eaters usually is sufficient, but if cut down by unseasonable weather it will be supplemented adequately by providing chopped suet, suet mixtures, and food cake.
Bananas, cottage cheese, potatoes, boiled corn meal, cooked rice, and other moist foods are used, but freezing renders them less valuable. Table scraps and other foods that freeze in winter or sour in summer should be supplied only in quantities that will be promptly consumed. Residues should be cleaned up regularly. As suet may melt to some extent in hot weather it should be placed in self-draining containers. Sometimes it molds, in which event it should be promptly discarded. Any indications that food is in oversupply may be taken as a hint to reduce the quantity—certainly of perishable kinds. Salty foods, though attractive to a few birds, should not be furnished, as they seem to be deleterious to others. Fine, sharp grit can be supplied to advantage.
The methods of making these supplies available to birds are as varied as the dietary itself. A device commonly used is the food tray or shelf. This may be put on a tree or pole or at a sunny window or some other protected place about a building, or it may be strung upon a wire or other support on which it may be run back and forth. The last arrangement is useful in accustoming birds to feeding nearer and nearer a comfortable observation point. To prevent wind and rain from sweeping it clean and snow from covering the food, the shelf should have a raised ledge around the margin or should be placed in the shelter of a wall or shielded with evergreen branches on one or more sides. A shelf with a ledge and other protection also a food hopper, useful in holding a considerable supply of food and in guarding it against contamination, and a broiler that serves suet conveniently and economically.
Devices that conserve food and keep it available regardless of weather conditions are best. An excellent one is a coconut with a hole cut in one end. The cavity is filled with chopped suet and nuts or other food mixture, and the coconut is suspended by a wire from a limb.
The size of the hole regulates the character of the guests: if it is small, large birds cannot gobble the supply. The coconut meat as well as the stuffing is eaten. Peanut butter may be substituted for, or mixed with, chopped suet.
Cans with small openings may be used in the same manner. Food baskets of any desired size made of wire netting (soap shakers are good) or a metal grating may be hung up or fastened to the trunk of a tree. Where winter is severe, however, knitted containers of twine or yarn should be used, as the moist tongue or even the eye of a bird may adhere to frosted metal. Food mixtures in melted suet or other fat may be poured into holes made in a branch or stick or in cracks or bark or over evergreen branches. Ripe sunflower heads hung upside down either on tree branches or under other shelter are attractive to such bird acrobats as chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. All these devices minimize or obviate the disturbing effects of stormy weather.
More elaborate apparatus for the same purpose comprises various forms of food hoppers and food houses. The food hopper is like those used for domestic fowls and may be purchased ready-made; other forms are manufactured especially for wild birds. A home-made hopper, the materials for which are a fruit jar, two pieces of board, and some wire. It has proved very satisfactory in years of use.
The food house, a permanent structure with solid roof and walls, one or more of them of glass to permit observation shelters the food entirely from the weather. The lower tray serves to attract the birds, which then learn to feed from the upper one.
It is mounted on a pivot and furnished with vanes large enough to keep the open side always from the wind. A hopper may be installed as a safe container for the food.
Constructing a Bird Table. Another means of feeding wild birds in winter is to place the food on a bird table mounted on a pole or pedestal sufficiently high to make it safe from cats, and provided with metal guards as described earlier. A temporary bird table can be made from a shallow tray nailed on a pole which is thrust into the ground.
Birds are suspicious of newly erected bird tables, especially those with a canopy top for the purpose of keeping the food dry, but if a permanent table is placed in the garden, on which food is always available, they associate this with the garden, and visit it in numbers throughout the winter. Attractive tables can be purchased ready-made, but for permanent use as a garden ornament, a table made of concrete is recommended. In time, exposure to weather will cause mossy growths to form which greatly add to its appearance.
Other Feeding Methods. Game birds and other ground feeders may be attracted by low hutches or wigwam like shocks of corn or grain sheaves under which food may be scattered. The openings should be to the south.
Many who appreciate birds have degrees of preference and may not care to attract such numerous and greedy kinds as starlings and English sparrows. Supplying such coarser foods as scratch feed and table scraps at a distance from the observation point and daintier tidbits nearby has the effect of dividing the patrons. The food supply for preferred species may be protected by offering it almost exclusively in containers and by hanging these on loose springs or by cords that will allow them to revolve freely. Wary species do not like these devices, but titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and other confiding birds are not alarmed by them.
The mockingbird—and occasionally the catbird, cedar waxwing, and other fruit-eating birds—can be fed in winter by exposing soaked currants or raisins, the solid-fleshed grapes that are available in market at that season, and halved or quartered apples. Small flat-headed nails driven part way into a feeding shelf or other support will hold pieces of apple forced down over them until the flesh is entirely consumed.
The hummingbirds, a very specialized group, may be catered to by supplying syrup in small bottles or drinking fountains. At first it may be necessary to draw their attention to this food with a brightly colored real or imitation flower, but after habit is established the syrup will be visited without such embellishment. A saturated solution of ordinary white sugar seems to be preferred, although other syrups and strained honey also are accepted.
Cultivating Food Supplies
Another method of making food available is to plant trees, shrubs, and herbs that produce seeds or fruits and let the birds reap the harvest in their own way. Less of this has been done for the true seed-eating birds than for those fond of pulpy fruits. The reason is obvious, for seed eaters largely patronize weeds, which there is no desire to encourage, whereas the fruit eaters depend upon many plants that are held in such esteem for their ornamental value that they are generally cultivated.
For Seed Eaters. Something can be done, however, to attract goldfinches, siskins, juncos, the sparrow tribe in general, and other seed eaters. A number of commonly cultivated annual plants, belonging to the same groups as those upon which the birds feed extensively in nature, produce good crops of seeds and, being dependent upon cultivation, can be used without fear that they will become pests. The following are suggested: Prince’s-feather (Amaranthus hybridus hypochondriacus), Love-lies-bleeding (A.caudatus), Asters, Rock Purslanes (Calandrinia), Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus), Centaureas, California Poppies (Eschscholtzia), Cosmos, Marigold, Sunflowers, Tarweed (Madia elegans), Forget-me-nots, Prince’s Plume (Polygonum orientale), Sacaline (P. sachalinense), Portulaca, Silene, varieties of Sorghum (Kafir, Milo, Sorgo, and others), and zinnia.
The various Millets and similar seeds are relished by nearly all seed-eating birds. Barnyard grass, or Japanese Millet (Echinochloa Crusgalli), and Foxtail, or German Millet or Hungarian Grass (Setaria italica), may be obtained from most seedsmen and should be planted in abundance by those wishing to attract seed-eating birds. Barnyard grass holds its seeds well and if planted thickly where it can grow up through a horizontal latticework makes a valuable cover and feeding place for winter birds. The height and stiffness of stalk of Sorghums should make these abundant seeders valuable in winter. Canary Grass (Phalaris canariensis) and various species of Pennisetum (Pearl Millet, Fountain Grass, and others) also are good for seed-eating birds.
A phase of feeding seed-eating birds, namely, the planting of food patches for game, which incidentally benefits other wildlife, nowadays receives a great deal of attention. The plants recommended as most valuable for this use are locally adapted strains of the following crop plants: Alfalfa, Beggarweed, Buckwheat, Bur Clover, Chufa, Clover, Corn, Cowpea, Flax, Hemp, Lespedeza, Millet, Oats, Peanut, Rice (upland), Rye, Sesame, Sesbania, Sorghum, Soybean, Sudan Grass, Sunflower, Vetch, Wheat, and Winter Pea.
Alders and Birches bear in their numerous cones a supply of seeds that are eagerly sought by redpolls, siskins, and goldfinches during winter. The winged fruits of Ashes and Box Elders are opened and the seeds eaten by pine and evening grosbeaks, the visits of these birds being largely regulated by the supply of this kind of food. Elms, which produce each year the earliest crop of tree seeds, are spring cafeterias for goldfinches and purple finches. Larches, Pines, and other conifers are attractive to crossbills, as well as to some of the species just mentioned. Oaks and Beeches are so important to woodpeckers and jays as often to decide the distribution of these birds, especially in winter; their acorns and nuts are useful also to nuthatches, grackles, crows, and game birds.
For Fruit Eaters. Feeding fruit-eating birds is best accomplished by planting selected species of fruit-bearing shrubs and trees. Through late spring and summer there is usually an abundance of insect food in addition to fruit enough for all the birds. So far as fruit alone is concerned, fall is the season of overflowing abundance; in winter the supply gradually decreases, and late in winter and early in spring there is usually actual scarcity. This is the critical time of year for many birds, and a plentiful supply of wild fruit will tide them over. Fortunately, there are some fruits that persist until there is no longer any need for them, and if enough trees and shrubs that produce them are planted, no birds able to live on this class of food should starve. The best of these long-persisting fruits are those of Juniper, Hackberry, Bayberry, Thorn Apple, Flowering Apple, Mountain Ash, Holly, Virginia Creeper, Dogwood, Sour Gum, Persimmon, Snowberry, and Bush Honeysuckle.
Measured by the number of species of birds known to feed upon them, the following fruits are the most popular:
Fruits Most Popular With Birds Taken by 100 or more species:
Raspberry and Blackberry genus, Elderberry. Taken by 50 to 99 species:
Juniper and Red Cedar genus, Bayberry, Mulberry, Pokeberry, Strawberry, Sumac, Grape, Dogwood, and Blueberry.
Taken by 35 to 49 species:
Greenbrier, Hackberry, Crab and Flowering Apple genus, Juneberry, Thorn Apple, Rose, Crowberry, Holly, Virginia Creeper, Sour Gum, Bearberry and Manzanita genus, Huckleberry, Snowberry, and Viburnum (Blackhaw, Cranberrybush, and Others).
For Flower Seekers. Hummingbirds, the principal flower seekers, are readily attracted by cultivated blossoms, of which they seem to prefer those that are red, orange, or purple in color. Some rather generally cultivable flowers that are notably attractive to hummingbirds are: Day Lilies (Hemerocallis), Lilies (Lilium), Cannas, Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis), Spiderflower (Cleome), Silk Tree (Albizzia), RedBuckeye (Aesculus Pavia), Morning-glories (Ipomoea), Petunias, Bee Balms (Monarda), Scarlet Sage (Salvia splendens), and Honeysuckles (Lonicera). Jewelweed (Impatiens biflora), a species occurring from Newfoundland and Saskatchewan to Nebraska and Florida, and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), ranging from New Jersey and Illinois south to Florida and Texas, are well-known favorites of hummingbirds. In southern Florida the Scarlet Bush (Hamelia patens) and the Royal Poinciana (Delo-nix regia) are noted as hosts to these vividly colored little birds; in southern California, the Silk Oaks (Grevillea), various species of Eucalyptus, Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), and Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea); , and in both regions, the Scarlet Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus), Purple Cestrum (Cestrum elegans), Common Lantana (Lantana Camara), Fuchsias, Butterfly bushes (Buddleia), and Jasmines(Jasminum).