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In The Garden – For The Birds – Nov/Dec2016

In The Garden - For The Birds - Nov/Dec2016

A few years ago I received a call from a friend, David Love – president of Bird Studies Canada. He asked if I would be interested in meeting some people and hosting a bird-a-thon in Toronto. Since then, I’ve learned so much about backyard birding and share some of the highlights.

BIRDS DON’T NEED US FOR FOOD | Many well-intentioned feeders of birds (as opposed to bird feeders) believe that wild birds become dependent on us for food. Other than, perhaps, on the coldest days of the year or when the snowfall is very deep, birds are very capable of finding food from natural sources. Like us, they will take the easiest path to a meal, and if it happens to be at your feeder, then that’s where they will congregate. The good news is; that you are free to go on vacation without feeling guilty.

USE THE APPROPRIATE SEED | Consider what kinds of birds you’d like to attract to your yard and use the most apt seed in your feeders.

Bird Studies Canada suggests:

• Black oil sunflower/premium mixed seed to attract Cardinals, Blackcapped Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows and common Grackles.

• Suet and peanuts for birds (as opposed to peanuts for human consumption, as birds should not have salt) attract Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Whitebreasted Nuthatches and Hairy Woodpeckers.

• Nyjer/Black oil sunflower seeds attract House Finches, American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins. Use a nyjer feeder, and watch the bird population scrap over who gets the spoils first.

• I have prepared a blend of seed that is amazingly effective for attracting songbirds. It’s call Bird Feast and is a Mark’s Choice product approved by Bird Studies Canada, available at Home Hardware.

WATER | This is the most impactful feature that you can add to your yard in an effort to attract birds (apart from a bird feeder). Birds need water to drink and bathe in. A half-barrel, or a full-scale pond or stream, works wonders. At last count, I had five birdbaths, and they are all being well used.

SHELTER | Birds need shelter to breed and for protection from the cold, wind and snow, as well as their enemies like hawks, falcons and neighbourhood cats – especially our feline friends. Tall, thick evergreens, like cedar, spruce, fir and the like, provide the best protection for wild birds.

Bird Studies Canada is the largest, and most experienced, organization of its kind. Each year they depend upon the public – people like you and me – to help determine the migration patterns of wild bird species, as well as population growth and decline.

You can become a citizen scientist by taking part in the largest bird count in the country in December. It’s not only educational, but also lots of fun. And who knows, you just might get hooked and skip the southern trip this winter in favour of bird watching. Register at

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at