Several years ago, our neighbors decided to establish natural habitat in their front and back yards.
They constructed a small pond with a recirculating pump and planted an assortment of trees and shrubs along with lots of perennials. They haven’t had to mow in a few years now, but maintaining the quality habitat and adding new features involve more time and energy than mowing would have.
My husband and I haven’t yet mustered their level of commitment in our own yard, but we’re reaping benefits from their hard work. Our yard has quite a few bird-attracting trees, shrubs, and other plants, too, but is more traditional. We chose the community 32 years ago because it sat along an important migratory corridor, and we picked our particular house for a wonderful clump of spruce trees in the backyard, planted by a little boy around 1920.
The trees tower above houses and other trees, catching the eye of passing birds. I’ve seen roosting Great Horned, Great Gray, Long-eared, Boreal, and Northern Saw-whet Owls. Crows nested one year, a pair of Merlins raised their young in the same stick nest the following year, and songbirds feed and flitter through the branches every spring and fall.
Thanks to our neighbors’ vision and backbreaking work, our birds now enjoy a wider variety of natural foods and roost sites. The number of warblers moving through each spring seems to have increased, the opening buds on a broader assortment of trees promising a buffet of caterpillars for hungry migrants.
As visually appealing as our neighbors’ yard is from above, it’s even more tempting to another avian sense: hearing. I’ve long noticed that the more birds are in my yard at any moment, the more other birds are attracted by their calls. Now, thanks to my neighbors, birds notice sounds not heard here since the area was settled. Gurgling from the recirculating pump alerts them to water. When a flock of about 1,500 Bohemian Waxwings visited, my photographer-friend Dudley Edmondson got videos of masses swirling about and feeding on fruits in his yard. The same group descended on my yard and my neighbors’, but not to feed — they gathered above and around the pond to drink and bathe.
Even better, two years ago, a gray tree frog showed up. A little brook babbles several blocks away, and so frogs must occasionally hop about unseen. When this one discovered the pond, he moved right in. Now, every warm day from late spring well into summer, he calls persistently and loudly from somewhere in a maple tree. His call informs birds that they are near a spot with water, moist plants, and all the other natural features associated with tree frogs. Any hungry, thirsty, or tired bird can’t help but check it out. And I get to enjoy them all. — Laura Erickson
Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appears in every issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe. This article appeared in the October 2014 issue. Laura is a co-author of National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America and the author of Laura’s Birding Blog. In February 2014, she received the American Birding Association’s highest honor: the Roger Tory Peterson Award.
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