Let's get birdy.
One of the easiest ways to get close to nature is to learn to appreciate birds. Who doesn’t look at a bird and feel envy or a sense of majesty and freedom? They are a great source of wonder because they have abilities we can’t achieve without tons of machinery - literally. They freaking fly. And they’re EVERYWHERE, so there is boundless opportunity to watch and learn from them.
Central Oregon is a hotbed of biodiversity. It supports species for nearly every ecoregion in Oregon. During spring and fall migrations, millions of birds and hundreds of species fly overhead, making stops at our forests, wetlands and feeders.
Connection to nature is good for your health and well-being. There is tons of literature with evidence that supports this (like The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, or The Biophilia Effect by Clemens G. Arvay). What a lot of people lose out on is that nature is around them all the time. No matter where you go, there is something to appreciate. Even in a city. You can’t escape it. And embracing it will dramatically improve your life.
And, birds are awesome.
Every Bird Counts
DID YOU KNOW?
1 in 4 birds in North America are gone.
For all the beauty and pleasure they give us, our feathered friends have hard lives. Finding food— birds need a TON of energy to live everyday lives, and even more when they’re raising chicks.Avoiding danger— predators, cars, fishing line, fences, windows! The world is perilous for birds.
Here are a few things you can do to help your backyard buddies.
1. Put Up A Feeder—
This helps you and the birds. Have you ever experienced the true joy of watching birds flit around in your yard? They do such interesting things. You can see relationships between individuals, duels, rivalries, companionships… Birds lead socially rich lives.
Bringing a feed into your yard encourages them to spend time there. And it helps them find food during lean months. Habitat loss by human development is a serious problem for all wildlife. Putting up a feeder helps in their constant search for calories.
But, make sure you do it right. You have to do research on the birds in your area and what types of food they should be eating during each part of the year.
One mistake a lot of people make is with suet. Suet is a tasty fatty feeder food that many people use in their backyards. But it should only be supplied in the winter. In the summer, birds need to be focused on finding foods with more nutritional value, and if you put suet out, they won’t do that. It’s like someone putting out a plate of french fries and a pile of leafy greens in front of you… You know which you SHOULD eat, but you also know its probably not what you WILL eat… Plus, in the summer it gets drippy and melty and really gross.
You must also keep your suet in a cage. Birds use their feet to preen the feathers they can’t reach with their beak. If they're putting their feet on the fatty suet, they end up rubbing it all over their bodies. And this can damage feathers and keep them from insulating the birds.
In addition, clean your feeders regularly. This helps prevent to spread of disease and keeps birds from eating seeds that have gone bad, which can make birds sick.
2. Keep Your Cat Indoors—
Cats kill birds. They just do. Please keep them indoors. Dogs with strong prey drives should also be kept at bay whenever possible.
Build a “Catio” or take kitties out on a leash. At the very least, keep them indoors during Spring and Summer when birds are nesting. They are vulnerable and their babies are almost completely defenseless.
In the late 1800s, a small, flightless species of wren (Stephens Island Wren) was completely decimated by one cat. One individual cat. It belonged to the lighthouse keeper on an island near New Zealand. It kept bringing back birds, and the species was functionally extinct before anyone even realized that it was unknown to science.
3. Make Your Windows Visible—
Window strikes kill a lot of birds. Making your windows visible to birds is really the only way to keep this from happening. If you have blinds or curtains, that helps.
If you want to keep your blinds or curtains open, put something on the windows so birds see it as a barrier. Vertical lines every two inches is best. Just placing a couple stickers isn’t enough. Birds have EXTREMELY fast visual processing and can change direction quite quickly. They’ll go through spaces as narrow as a couple of inches… Just think about how they fly through what seems to you like a solid bush…
The most effective method is to put taught screens up outside of the glass. It doesn’t obstruct your view, and it will act as a little trampoline for the birds that do run into it.
Keeping houseplants away from windows is also important. Birds may get confused and think that the plant is a nice place to perch.
Likewise, keep your outdoor feeders need to be placed strategically. At least 30 feet away, or less than 3 feet. Anything in between increases the chance for window strikes.
4. Hold Off On Pruning—
I know that Spring and Summer is the time of year when your yard explodes. You have more foliage than you know what to do with, and it’s enticing to seek outdoor chores in the nice weather. Your fruit trees and rose bushes are in serious need of a trim.
But those tangles are ideal nesting habitat for many songbird species. If you hold off on pruning until the Autumn, you could spare the life of several baby birds. And not waste all the work that the parents put into building nests and raising their young. Plus, you get to watch little nestlings grow up right in your own yard!
5. Plant Native Species—
Birds are extremely adaptive animals. Many species migrate hundreds or thousands of miles every year. And many of them are also good at finding nesting sites and hunting grounds in many different habitats. But some of them are “obligates” of certain species. Meaning they can’t live out their life history without certain plants.
Native plants are also super important for helping native insect species flourish. Insects are an incredibly important link in the food chain. Birds eat TONS of bugs. And many native bugs are obligates of certain plant species, just like the birds. A classic and beautiful example of this is the Monarch butterfly and milkweed.
Central Oregon has a wonderful variety of native plants to choose from for your landscaping.
6. Find a Bird? Consult an Expert—
Finding an injured bird or a nest of baby birds can really tug at the heartstrings. You might think that the bird is doomed or that the parents aren’t coming back. And you might be right, but you should first gather information before taking action.
Call a wildlife rehabilitation center. Many communities have local ones. The Think Wild Hotline number is (541) 241-8680. They’ll ask you a series of questions and advise you on the proper action to take with the animal(s).
And remember, what they advise for one situation may not be what they advise for another. So always make sure you consult an expert before taking action. You don’t want to accidentally stress a healthy animal or rob a mother of her babies.
7. Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers—
Wildlife rehabilitation centers work to undo damage to local wildlife. Typically they help with animals that have been injured or orphaned due to interaction with humans or human civilization. They are usually small facilities that receive little to no government funding and are supported by donations from the public and the individuals that run them.
Songbirds are one of the most impacted groups of wildlife in our urban and suburban habitats. Giving a little bit of money and/or time to these facilities can help them carry out their mission to save them.
Donate to Think Wild here. If you can’t donate your dollars, consider donating supplies or services!
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Experiencing your local wildlife can enrich your life greatly, and our Central Oregon wildlife is diverse and accessible. These simple steps to care for the birds in your backyard will help improve the health of our ecosystem as well as your own health and well-being.