One of my highlights of 2021 was when Rose Lane, Rick and my home and gardens, was named a Georgia Audubon Society Certified Wildlife Sanctuary this fall. Nearly a dozen feeders – eight of them right outside my office windows – dot our 3-acre property, providing food for songbirds, tree climbers and migrating feathered friends all year long.
Last year, Rick built a couple of bluebird houses that were quickly occupied to become homes for baby bluebirds that we fully expect to return with their own families this spring.
To encourage a large population of diverse birds, it’s important to keep feeders filled regularly. Black oil sunflower seed is a good staple and when purchased in 40-pound bags from Tractor Supply or a box retailer can keep hungry birds coming back for more at an affordable price.
However, if you want a wider selection of bird visitors, add in some mixed seeds, like Cole’s Blue Ribbon blend or Special Feeder that attract both ground feeders and perch feeders. Include a suet feeder in the winter and you’ll soon see downy and red-bellied woodpeckers visiting.
The winter is an important time for feeding birds, and it’s often overlooked by novice nature lovers. But when you plant your yard and gardens with perennials and annuals that are seed-producing, such as cone flowers, cardinal flowers and zinnias, the birds can forage in your landscape to diversify their food sources.
Also consider installing shrubs that produce berries. Now is the best time to plant shrubs and trees to assure better success before summer’s heat arrives. Choose hollies, beauty berries, pyracantha and dogwood that produce colorful fruit in the fall and winter. These will attract a number of birds to your yard year after year.
It’s not enough to put up a few feeders and plant for food and shelter to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The pair of examiners from Georgia Audubon spent about 90 minutes at our home, counting up the numbers of native plants and making a comparison to the hybrids and other cultivars in our yard. Invasive non-native plants, such as Chinese privet and mahonia, needed to be removed. They also checked to ensure that we had water sources for the birds, plus plants that attracted caterpillars and other insects for the birds to feed on.
Native plants provide food, shelter and other benefits to native wildlife. Think about that when you’re picking landscape materials and seek out native plants. They will also adapt better to growing conditions than hybrids and they are typically more drought resistant.
If certification isn’t in your future, at least put up a few feeders with quality food, provide natural food and shelter sources and then sit back and enjoy the show. You’ll be surprised how many birds will flock to your home.
Join Audubon and the Great Backyard Bird Count
You don’t need to be a member of the Audubon Society to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Taking place over Presidents’ Day weekend, it’s a chance to become a citizen scientist by counting birds for as little as 15 minutes that weekend and filling out a simple online report. The purpose is to measure birds’ migration and habitat.
Georgia Audubon, part of the National Audubon Society, is an excellent source for information about all kinds of birds. In conjunction with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it sponsors the Great Backyard Bird Count each year over Presidents’ weekend.
Memberships in the Georgia Audubon Society start at $35 for individuals. This includes the quarterly newsletter, an e-newsletter, discounts on classes and workshops, monthly meetings and the opportunity to become certified as a Georgia Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
For info about the Great Backyard Bird Count taking place Feb. 18-21, visit www.birdcount.org. Visit it a couple of weeks before the event to become familiar with the forms, which are ZIP Code-specific and provide hints about bird identification.
For info about the Georgia Audubon Society or to join, visit www.georgiaaudubon.org.
For a free bird ID app for both iPhone and Android, check out eBird.org.