Daylight saving time is only a few days away and spring is right around the corner. The chickadees have been calling hey sweetie since late January preparing for the coming nesting season, while many migrants are already heading north – grackles, blackbirds, robins and phoebes are some of the earliest to depart their winter territories. Of the approximately 650 species of birds that nest in North America, the vast majority are migrants. Thus, ready or not, the birds are coming.
Spring migration fills backyard enthusiasts with the greatest joy as they watch new arrivals scouting out the best places to forage, feed, rest, and nest. However, for the birds themselves, this is one of the most physically stressful times of the year. Birds are constantly battling unpredictable weather, predation, the energetic demands of molting to breeding plumage, and the unknown availability of food and water. As gardeners we have a vital role to play in supporting our avian migrants. Studies have found that yards, especially in urban and suburban areas, have a significant impact on the nesting success rate and abundance of birds.
The following are some ideas to help support birds in the early spring:
Delay Spring Cleanup Often the first migrants to arrive are seed eaters. They are looking for remnant seeds in trees, on dead flowers, and beneath the leaf litter around your garden beds. Leave your gardens messy until late spring to help provide optimal foraging conditions. Explore YardMap for more ideas on growing seed-producing flowers for birds.
Birdhouses Birds begin scouting optimal nesting areas the minute they arrive in their mating territory. And for year-round residents, this process can begin as early as January or February. Put up your nest boxes as soon as possible so birds know their options for mating season. For more information on appropriate birdhouses to use, visit Nestwatch.
Mud Puddles These are not just for kids, but birds too! Mud puddles are a great way to provide both water and nesting material for birds. Robins, phoebes and swallows all use mud to build their nests. So, find a wet area in your yard, dig down about six inches, let the water fill in, and watch the birds celebrate!
Don’t Use Pesticides or Herbicides As spring gets underway and soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, earthworms, beetles, and insects become active. These organisms feed a multitude of birds and applying pesticides or herbicides to your lawn, gardens, shrubs, or trees will often kill these insects, leaving less food for the birds. Once birds are nesting, they rely heavily on insects–even seed eaters such as chickadees and nuthatches–for protein-packed snacks for their offspring. To learn more, explore this article: Freedom from Danger.
Following these simple strategies will help provide a welcoming and nourishing backyard for avian migrants in early spring. To learn more about how to prepare your property, explore our Learn pages. The birds are coming, are you ready?
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