By BARB WHIPKEY

Special to Chesapeake Home

Creating a backyard bird feeding habitat in your yard will provide you and your family with many hours of enjoyment, while also giving back to nature.

There are many studies suggesting that supplementing birds’ diets through the use of feeders is also helpful to their survival. Birds get an average of 10 percent of their food from bird feeders, while relying on nature’s bounties for the remainder. During times of severe weather, birds may turn to feeders for survival. How rewarding it is to know that you are making a difference in the life of our feathered friends and giving back to nature.

There are four basic things you need to create your own bird feeding habitat:

1. Food

2. Water

3. Shelter

4. A place to raise young

By providing an assortment of food choices in a variety of feeders, your yard can become that yard where all the neighborhood birds want to spend their time.

If you are going to start with one single feeder, something as simple as a tray or hopper style feeder can provide a meal for many different types of birds. Hopper-style feeders are the traditional feeders that resemble houses with transparent sides. The advantage to hopper or tray feeders are that almost any backyard bird can eat from this style of feeder. Hopper feeders will provide more protection from the weather, whereas a tray feeder will need to be freshened with seed more often.

In addition to choosing a quality feeder that is easy to clean, what you put in the food is just as important. By providing a high quality blend, you will attract a bigger variety of birds. Stay away from pre-mixed blends that contain fillers, such as milo and other grains. Many of the birdseeds you purchase off the shelf will have these fillers in them. This is what you will see your birds picking out and tossing onto the ground. Wild Birds Unlimited of Lexington Park offers blends that have been specially blended for the birds of Southern Maryland — with no fillers. Adding suet and nectar feeders are just a few options that will help attract an even bigger variety of birds to your yard.

In Southern Maryland, the biggest problem you will find with feeding the birds is that you will likely have squirrels visiting your feeders. Fortunately, there are many products that allow you to feed the birds but not the squirrels. There are feeders that are squirrel-proof. Wild Birds Unlimited offers the Eliminator, which closes off to not allow squirrels even a morsel, but it also prevents them from shaking seed onto the ground. It truly is a squirrel-proof option.

There are also squirrel resistant feeders that slow squirrels down, but do not stop them from enjoying a meal. Adding a baffle to a pole system will prevent squirrels from climbing the pole. When placing your pole system, it will need to be placed 8 to 10 feet from anything the squirrel can jump from to prevent the squirrels from launching themselves onto the feeders. Then, by placing a baffle 4-5 feet high, you can defeat the squirrels who like to display their climbing skills. A baffled pole system allows you to add a variety of feeders and foods which will increase the variety of backyard birds. Wild Birds Unlimited has a pole system that fits these requirements and also allows you to grow the pole as your backyard bird feeding habitat grows.

Birds need access to water year-round. Not only for drinking, but also for bathing and preening their feathers. Clean feathers are important for the health of the birds. During the winter months, a deicer added to a current birdbath will keep it from freezing. There are also birdbaths that have heaters built into them. Just by adding a birdbath with clean, fresh water, you can expect to see birds calling your yard home year-round.

Birds need shelter to protect themselves from predators and inclement weather and also places to feel safe from people. Planting native trees and evergreen bushes can provide cover and attract birds to your yard. Leaving hollow logs and brush piles create a natural covering for the birds. Rather than removing dead trees, consider leaving some that are not a risk to your home. This will allow birds to use the cavities for nesting and shelter.

Many birds will nest in the trees and bushes you provide, but others prefer nesting boxes for raising their young. With the destruction of natural habitats, places to nest are not as plentiful as they once were. By providing nesting boxes, you will encourage the birds to raise their young in your yard, while increasing your enjoyment of backyard bird feeding. There is nothing quite as exciting as seeing the parents bring their fledglings to the feeder to show them where to find a meal.

Adding these four elements to your yard will bring hours of entertainment to your family, while also giving back to nature. Now that your yard is bird-scaped, grab a pair of binoculars, relax and enjoy the show. Every season will bring new experiences, new color, new songs and new feathered friends to your yard.

Barb Whipkey is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited of St. Mary’s County, located in Lexington Park. For more information, call 301-863-BIRD or go to stmaryscounty.wbu.com.

"Right, Meg?" columnist and special sections editor for Maryland Independent, The Enterprise, The Calvert Recorder and Chesapeake 360 in Southern Maryland. Find her on Twitter @rightmeg.

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