Birds and Blooms Blog

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5 Spring Tips for Backyard Birds

Jill Staake

Springtime is bird time! Here are a few tips for attracting more backyard birds to your garden this spring than ever before.

Backyard Birds

Jill Staake A feeder with a roof keeps predators away, while a slide-out tray makes cleaning the feeder easier.

Try Something New. This is the time of year to add a style of feeder you’ve never used before. Try an orange and grape jelly feeder for orioles, or a mealworm feeder for neighborhood bluebirds. Click here for some recommendations.

Keep Feeders Clean. Keep your backyard birds healthy and encourage more visitors by making sure your feeders are clean. Seed feeders should be emptied and cleaned every couple of weeks (more often in wet or humid weather), and nectar feeders need fresh sugar water and a good cleaning every few days. Get tips for cleaning these feeders (as well as birdbaths) here.

Supply Feeders at the Right Time. Hummingbird feeders should be hung out about two weeks before you expect hummingbirds to return. (Not sure if this year’s winter will affect their return time? See the 2014 Hummingbird Tracker map.) The same goes for oriole feeders – have them out in advance to help birds find you first, which makes them more likely to return all season long.

Make Your Yard Safer. While we may not be able to control bully birds or stray neighborhood cats, we can provide safer places for backyard birds to feed and nest. Problem with cats in the neighborhood? Hang feeders from an 8-foot metal pole away from other tall structures. Even the best cats are unlikely to jump that high. Predators like hawks attacking from the sky? Try a feeder with a roof to protect smaller birds. Tired of watching grackles drive away your warblers? Add a cage-style feeder that only smaller birds can use.  Get more tips on defeating bully birds here.

Birdscape Your Garden. Providing natural nesting and food sources will attract more birds. Plant a tree or some new shrubs this spring for shelter, and add a couple of berry-producing plants to extend your backyard bird visitors longer into the fall. Learn more about birdscaping here.

Got a tip for attracting more birds this spring? We’d love to hear it! Tell us in the comments below. Have more questions about feeding or attracting birds? Try visiting the Birding forums on the Birds & Blooms Community.

Fruit Garden: How to Repel Borers Naturally

new_apples_on_tree

Do you have fruit trees?  If you do, than you have probably heard of borers and shudder at the possibility of them affecting your fruit trees.

If aren’t familiar with borers or the damage they cause here is why you don’t want them in your garden:

Adult borer beetles lay eggs in the crevices of the bark of fruit trees toward the bottom of the trunk.  After the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel their way into the trunk.  Borers make small holes and you can sometimes see sawdust around the holes or sap running down the trunk.

So what can you do to help prevent borers from coming to your fruit garden?

Plant garlic around fruit trees to repel borers

A natural deterrent for borers is garlic.  Simply plant cloves of garlic around your fruit trees, which will help prevent visits from the adult borer beetles.

Nasturtium_around_fruit_trees

Another plant that is said to help repel borers are nasturtiums, which are well-known for their ability to keep damaging insects away from vegetable gardens.  Growing nasturtiums is very easy.  Just plant some seeds underneath your fruit trees and they will begin to grow in spring.  Because nasturtiums are annuals, they will die, but will leave seeds behind that will come up again the following year.

I have apple and peach trees growing in my fruit garden and I have garlic planted around all of these trees.  So far, I have not seen any signs of borers.  I may add some nasturtiums alongside the garlic for a double layer of protection.  A bonus is that they will add a pretty touch underneath the trees.

Be aware that while garlic and nasturtiums can help deter borers – it is not a guarantee that your fruit trees won’t get borers.  So, keep an eye on your fruit trees for possible signs of borers.

fruit_tree_suckers

Another potential problem to lookout for on your fruit trees are ‘suckers’.  Fruit trees are often grafted onto rootstock.  The point where they are grafted is called the ‘bud union’ and is a slightly bulging area toward the bottom of the tree trunk.  Occasionally, shoots will start to grow from below the bud union, which steal nutrients – these are called ‘suckers’ because they literally ‘suck’ up the nutrients from the tree.

I recently had some suckers appear on my peach tree, pictured above.  To remove them, I used a sharp hand shovel to cut them off at the base.

Suckers are easy to remove, but they grow quickly, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

Growing fruit in the garden is fun and rewarding, but keep an eye out for potential problems like borers and suckers.  In the meantime, grab some garlic cloves and nasturtium seeds and start planting!

Birding for Beginners: Choosing a Field Guide

Rob Ripma Picking a field guide can be hard but some a better than others for beginners.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be doing several posts in a series that I’m calling “Birding for Beginners”. I decided to start with one of the most important choices that a beginning birder can make – choosing a field guide.

The volume of choices available when you start looking at field guides can be extremely overwhelming. How in the world are beginning birders supposed to know which of the dozens of field guides that are available will be best to help you learn about the birds that you are seeing? In order to help you decide which field guide to choose, there are several questions that you should ask yourself. First,do you prefer guides with photos or with drawings? Everyone seems to have a strong preference towards one or the other. Second, what region would you like the guide to cover? Is covering just part of North America good enough, or would you like a guide that covers everything you might find in North America?

Once you have answered those questions, you will be much more prepared to select a field guide. I recommend the following field guides based on my experiences using many different guides over the years.

1. The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

In my opinion, this is the best field guide to the birds in North America for beginning birders. The book is laid out in a way that really helps you find birds in the book as well as learn them as you go. It features photos of each species and very helpful text explaining many of the key identification points in addition to other useful information such as habitats and nesting behaviors. This is also the first field guide to the birds of North America that is translated into Spanish (Guia de Campo Kaufman a las Aves de Norteamericas).

Birding for Beginners: Kaufman Field Guide

2. The Sibley Guide to Birds

If you prefer drawings to photos, the Sibley Guide to Birds is definitely the book for you. The drawings are very accurate and highlight all of the best identification points of each species. The text is also well written and extremely helpful for those that take the time to read it. This book is offered in three versions: North American, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

Birding for Beginners: Sibley Guide to Birds

3. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds

The first good field guide in the United States was the Peterson Guide to Birds published in 1934. There have been many revisions and upgrades to this book over the years, and it’s still a very good field guide. The book also features drawings of bird species, but I personally prefer Sibley’s artwork. It’s also offered in three versions like The Sibley Guide to Birds - North American, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

Birding for Beginners: Peterson Field Guide

No matter which field guide you choose, I highly recommend that you read the introduction chapters of each book before diving into the more fun images of the birds. There’s an incredible amount of info that can be learned by reading the intros to these books.  You’ll learn how to use the field guide, bird topography (parts of the birds), and how to understand range maps that are included for each species.

Beach Birding During Migration

Jill Staake

There’s no doubt that migration season is in full swing! This past week, I spent an afternoon at my favorite local beach, Fort De Soto Park, which also happens to be one of the best birding hotspots in Florida. Within just a few minutes, before we’d even gotten out of the car, I spotted a new life bird – this gorgeous Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Scarlet Tanager

Some shore birds migrate too, with the famous Red Knot (Calidris canutus) being a great example. These birds have one of the longest known migrations, traveling 9300 miles from their Arctic summer breeding grounds to their wintering grounds in southern South America. That means the Red Knots we spotted this weekend in Central Florida could still have a couple thousand miles to travel this spring!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red Knots

The Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) we spotted, on the other  hand, have probably finished their journey. They winter in the Caribbean and northern South America, but breed along the southern coasts. They also breed far inland along major river systems, though, so these birds could just be stopping for a break before continuing north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Least Tern

Red-Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) like this female have been seen here in large numbers this winter, but we were surprised to still see them this far south in the middle of April. Their summer breeding grounds include much of Canada and Alaska, so perhaps they’ve been waiting for this year’s seemingly-endless winter to finish before starting their journey north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red-Breasted Merganser (female)

Of course, there were plenty of regular park residents to enjoy as well, along with spectacular sunsets. All in all, it was a perfect way to spend a warm sunny Florida spring day.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Clockwise from top left: Laughing Gull, Reddish Egret, Short-Billed Dowitchers, Black Skimmer

What migrating birds do you like to watch at the beach? Tell us in the comments below!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Lorie Enjoy some funny photography and caption this photo!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Birds & Blooms’ Friday Fun Photography snapshot for April 18, 2014: Cup of Carolina Wren by Suzanne LaPalme of Havelock, North Carolina. Suzanne writes, “A friend gave me on of his homemade bird feeders. It’s a teacup and saucer glued together and mounted on a rod to stake in the ground. I put sunflower seeds in it, only to have squirrels gorge themselves. Then received a lot of rain and the cup filled with water. I saw a black-capped chickadee drinking from it one day, and then this Carolina wren taking a bath in the cup! As you can see, my husband was able to get a great photo of this.”

Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!

Garden DIY: Floral Ice Cubes

Bring the beauty from your garden to your table with this easy garden DIY project – floral ice cubes with your favorite edible flowers.

Spring Butterfly Gardening Reminders

As warm weather returns, so will these colorful fliers! Get tips for butterfly gardening this spring, and learn how to look for and enjoy them.

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