Monday, December 31, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
There isn't a lot of actual gardening going on this time of year but that doesn't mean thing are not happening in the garden. I attract birds to my gardens year round using plantings and feeders. Birds are natural predators to some insects that can be a nuisance in the garden. The essentials for attracting birds into the garden are food, water and shelter. These remain the same regardless of the season but in colder climates become more important as the temperatures drop. Natural food supplies and water become scarcer for our little feather friends.
Our new gardens are surrounded by mature landscaping consisting of a lot of cedars along the outer perimeters. The cedars provide a lot of shelter and nesting sites for the smaller birds like the house sparrows (Passer domesticus), house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), black capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and nuthatches. Larger birds enjoy the shelter as well.
I have four feeders each designed to attract different birds and I always put a little seed on the ground for the ground feeders. One problem with bird feeders is they can attract brown-headed cowbirds that are parasitic (takes over other nests removing the eggs) and grackles. Both are annoyance birds that come in larger flocks, stripping the feeders and chasing off the smaller song and beneficial birds. One way to control both is by the choice of seed offering (1) and design of feeder (2). Finches, sparrows and wrens like Niger seed in tube feeders (2) yet grackles and cowbirds don't care for this seed. Squirrels will leave Niger seed alone as well. Safflower seed is enjoyed by cardinals, sparrows and other small birds yet grackles and cowbirds leave it alone. So if grackles and cowbirds are a problem, use Niger or safflower. Definitely stay away from anything with corn in it if these birds or rodents are a problem. Squirrels will go after anything with corn, sunflower seeds or peanuts in it. But bluejays love peanuts so control can be through timing or the design of the feeder. I've yet to see a feeder that a determined squirrel can't get to so timing really is the best method.
Be sure to offer one or more suet blocks during the cold weather months. These provide higher fats the birds need during the winter. Quite often squirrels and larger birds will try to get to the suet and while they may get a little the wire suet hangers are rather effective at keeping the suet safe for the smaller birds. It is also important to offer a fresh water supply throughout the winter months. Some use a bird bath heater to keep the water from freezing. I put out a fresh bowl of water each morning and change through the day if need be.
I have to admit a love/hate feeling about mourning doves (Zenaida macroura). Their soft cooing is rather pleasing and they provide the ground clean-up crew under the feeders. They eat almost exclusively seeds so aren't of huge benefit to the home gardener. They aren't aggressive so there shouldn't be much of a problem. Well, they are about the next best thing to a pigeon! They are dirty birds. They have several broods a year. Once established and it is almost impossible to discourage them from becoming established, the only thing you can really do is tolerate them. Apparently some hunt them as a game bird but that would take a lot of effort. So I just let them be. The mourning doves enjoy the coniferous trees surrounding our property. They started me a few times as I walked past only to have several of them fly out. Now I'm used to it.
Sharp Shinned Hawk
A well balanced bird population in your garden will include predators like the Sharp Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus). The Sharp Shinned Hawk is 10 - 14 inches long with dark gray back, a rusty-barred breast, a slender square-tipped tail. I was elated to see this hawk visiting our gardens (December 16, 2007) since we've only been here five months. My husband was not simply because he has dealt with the wrath of hawks in the past. Sharp Shinned hawks are rather fond of mourning doves. However, hawks will certainly be encourage in our gardens as a natural rodent control. Mice have been an indoor problem and while the voles have not been problematic indoors there is a rather large population of them. The English Ivy ground cover encourages both rodents. Hawks will keep both in check eliminating the need to resort to poisoning or traps.
This time of year, don't forget your feather friends. They will reward you by visiting your garden year round!