Every summer, I am thrilled anew by the bounty of birds in my backyard. Our cherry trees draw in tanagers, orioles, warblers, and a host of other colorful birds. Dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit our feeders and backyard flowers, dart about capturing insects swarming here and there, and take quiet siestas in our trees.
From mid-July through early September, I can count on a dozen or more Cedar Waxwings any time I step outside, feasting on berries and flying insects both. Their soft, sibilant snores define the sleepy, comfortable ambiance of late summer afternoons.
Scanning the bushes and trees and keeping a careful watch on my birdbaths, I spot a host of other birds, from flycatchers to finches. A few of them nested in the neighborhood, but the vast majority arrive by happenstance in my little backyard during their long journey between their breeding and wintering ranges.
Neither my husband nor I are gardeners, and we live in a long-settled neighborhood in a small city, so our backyard habitat is hardly exceptional. We do have a good variety of trees and shrubs and a good brush pile. But just as important, our yard is situated less than half a mile from the Lake Superior shoreline, an important migratory pathway. Early migrants passing overhead in mid-summer may be attracted by the colors of the cherries and other fruits, a particular tree (Evening Grosbeaks, for example, are partial to box elders), or my birdbaths. I suspect even more are attracted by the sounds of birds already there. With birds, it’s often true that the more you have, the more you get.
Those of us who enjoy this rich abundance know how important backyard habitat is to attract birds. But it’s easy to forget that even the finest backyard habitat serves as little more than a waypoint as most of “our” birds journey between their nesting and wintering ranges. Birds flying straight south from my yard pass through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana before reaching the Gulf. Even the slightest westerly component to the wind can send them into Illinois or Mississippi, too. They’ll need to make dozens or even hundreds of stops along the way to rest and feed.
That is why even though I’m not a hunter, every year I buy a Federal Duck Stamp. I want to ensure that “my” birds will be able to find quality habitat in our national wildlife refuges as they travel. My Duck Stamp costs $25, the cost of a couple of large bags of sunflower seed. A full $24.50 of that goes directly to habitat acquisition to protect birds and other wildlife.
As long as quality habitat exists in the north where these birds breed, in the tropics where many of them winter, and in enough feeding and resting places in between, I can count on a wealth of birds in my yard every spring and fall, long into the future. — Laura Erickson
Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appears in every issue of BirdWatching magazine. This article appeared in the August 2017 issue. Laura is a co-author of Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds, 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.
Five more columns by Laura Erickson
FEEDERS FOR CONSERVATION
In Peru, bird-feeding stations are helping to protect habitat.
MORE THAN BIRD SEED
Four major threats to birds may lurk in your yard.
THE GIVING TREE
How Red-bellied Woodpeckers turned a bad spot into a good nest.
Feeding birds entails serious responsibilities.
Nests in your yard are delightful, most of the time.
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