You don't have to be a birding enthusiast to appreciate birds. Go just about anywhere in the world and you're bound to find some feathered friends. The Okanagan-Similkameen is no exception. We have a vast array of fascinating birds here, and there are many ways for us to help them thrive and enjoy their presence.
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Seven ways you can help birds
1. Put out a bird feeder.
Different seeds attract different birds. Black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, and suet cakes are all popular. Place feeders closer than 3 feet or further than 30 feet from windows to reduce bird collisions.
In areas with rodents, you may want to consider buying a large saucer that hangs below the feeder and catches any dropped seeds. These can be emptied nightly to remove the attractant for rodents. If you see squirrels in your neighborhood, you may want to get a squirrel-proof feeder. If you live in an area with bears, wait until late fall before putting feeders up, and take them down in early spring.
Hummingbird feeders must be emptied and refilled with fresh sugar-water once every two to three days or it will start to ferment and can make the hummingbirds sick. Remember to clean all bird feeders with mild soap and water once every week or so to avoid spreading disease.
2. Give birds a drink
Only certain birds are attracted to bird feeders, but all birds need a drink. Providing water in your yard will bring in species that don’t come to feeders, like robins, spotted towhees and warblers.
A bird bath doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. Even a large plant saucer can do the trick! The best bird baths mimic natural puddles - shallow with sloping sides.
Placing rocks or branches in the bird bath allows birds to drink without getting their feet wet, which is important in winter months.
Access to water can be difficult for birds in the winter when lakes, streams and puddles begin to freeze. The Okanagan is usually warm enough that if you put warm water into the bird bath in the morning it will stay free of ice until the following night.
3. Put up a bird box
Many different birds use holes in trees for nesting. Some birds, like woodpeckers, will make their own holes, but other birds need to find holes to nest in. These birds include song birds like chickadees, house wrens and bluebirds, but also larger birds like the Western Screech-owl.
Different sizes and locations of boxes will attract different species of birds.
If you install bird boxes, be sure to follow instructions for keeping them clean and never add perches or decorations to the front, as these only serve as footholds for predators like cats, crows, and snakes.
4. Leave dead trees standing where it is safe to do so
Dead trees often have holes where birds can nest.
Even if a dead tree doesn’t have holes in it yet, it will often have insect colonies eating the dead wood. Those insects provide food for woodpeckers, and they provide cavities for all sorts of other birds.
Dead trees can make great perches for large birds of prey. They are easy to land in without needing to maneuver around all those pesky leaves, and once a bird is perched there, it has a commanding view of any threats or possible prey around.
5. Don’t feed birds human food!
Although breads and crackers are delicious, they are mostly carbohydrates, with very little protein, vitamins, or minerals. If birds eat too much of this, they end up eating much less of other healthier foods. Ducks and geese are the birds most commonly given bread, but it is still very unhealthy for other birds as well. If ducklings eat too much bread while they are young, they end up with severe nutrient deficiencies and develop ‘angel wings’, a bone disorder that leaves them unable to fly.
Some municipalities ask that residents refrain from feeding ducks and geese as it can lead to larger-then-normal populations, and all that extra duck and goose poop can cause water quality problems. Uneaten food can also attract rats to the area.
If you must feed ducks and geese, and you are in a place where you are allowed to do so, feed things like peas, corn, oats, bird seed, or torn greens.
6. Plan to create spaces for birds
The best time to plant is in fall and spring, but it is always a great time to sit down and make a plan for what to plant next. Creating an area with dense shrubs gives birds somewhere to hide – bonus points for using native species that bear fruit. Check out our web page on attracting native pollinators for some ideas of what to plant.
Leaving a messy area with piles of branches, leaves and things that have gone to seed is great for birds. Birds will shelter in the branches, search through the leaves for insects, and eat the seeds. Make sure you don’t let invasive plants go to seed!
7. Keep birds safe from pets
Cats are excellent hunters that are great at catching birds (although you wouldn’t know it from watching cat videos online). Cats are estimated to kill about 200 million birds in Canada every year. Many of those deaths are from feral cats and feral cat colonies, but most well fed cats will also catch birds for fun and extra food. Keep cats indoors, try a building a “catio”, or test out a cat bib.
Dogs aren’t generally thought of as being a problem for birds, but they can cause trouble for ground nesting birds during the spring and summer. Some dogs love to chase waterfowl and chasing resting birds in the winter can cause them to use up valuable energy and fat stores. Keep dogs on leashes or under close supervision.