Bring the songs of summer home

A careful choice of food and feeders can make your home a sanctuary for birds of spectacular colour and song offerings of great sweetness.

Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

Nature, in our own back yards, provides a precious tranquil space in summer, offering among other blessings the best medicine we have for de-stressing. For people who combine the hobbies of gardening and feeding wild birds, the rewards are many. The beauty and fragrance of flowers along with the colours and songs of birds are food for the soul.

When it comes to attracting wild birds in summer, there are specific feeders and foods as well as plants that can help you draw in some spectacular species. Here are some tips that can bring great results.

Some of the easiest birds to attract are the bright-coloured finches, whose songs are among the sweetest heard in the bird kingdom. We are treated to several species in Manitoba, among them house and purple finches, and the brilliant yellow American goldfinch.

House and purple finches are most attracted to black oil sunflower in almost any style of feeder, but they especially enjoy window feeders which suction cup right to your window. You can offer shelled sunflower in these feeders so the area below the window will remain clean. Window feeders – along with static cling decals – prevent birds from colliding with the glass, a leading cause of mortality in the songbird population.

American goldfinches also eat sunflower seeds but are often chased off by larger birds. To prevent this, consider putting up a thistle feeder; it has very tiny holes and other birds cannot access the seed inside. The food to use is called Nyjer seed, and goldfinches truly enjoy it. Note that it’s important to set out the tiny seed in the proper feeder or it will just blow away.

House sparrows also like Nyjer and will dominate a feeder if they can access the seed; they are unable, though, to take over a quality thistle feeder.

Plant favourites the home-owner can grow for finches include zinnias, cosmos, purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Allow these to go to seed and watch your finches indulge. For nesting, finches like shrubs, and the caragana variety is especially popular.

Orioles are among my personal favourite birds to attract. They are colourful and wonderful singers; I can’t recommend too strongly that bird lovers make the effort to entice these gems into their yards. Most people fail to attract them simply because they don’t offer the right foods and feeders. There are three options: nectar, fruit and jelly feeders.

Nectar feeders for orioles are similar to hummingbird feeders, but a slight difference in design meets the oriole’s needs. The nectar combines four cups of water and one cup of white sugar. The water should be boiled first, then taken off the element; the sugar is then added and stirred till dissolved.

You should change the feeder at least once a week, twice in really hot weather. You can make a large amount of nectar and leave it in the fridge for up to two weeks, so you aren’t making it fresh every time. No other sweeteners should be added as these usually ferment quickly in the sun. Do not add any type of colouring, as this is toxic and damaging to the birds’ health.

The nectar recipe also applies to hummingbirds. Feeders for both species are designed to be colourful and attractive, so you don’t need to dye the nectar.

Fruit feeders are made for offering oranges, a happy indulgence of orioles and many species of migratory birds in spring. Jelly feeders are the feeder for attracting orioles along with many varieties of warblers and the glorious tanagers. Grape jelly is the food of choice, and not to be confused with Jello or jam. Results for this type of feeder are so great that my record for one season is 53 jars of jelly! These special feeders are available in several designs.

Orioles are very active in spring, may then disappear during nesting but will return with their young in early August. The same can apply to hummingbirds. You should in this period be prepared to go through lots of jelly! The entire bird family will happily eat jelly and drink nectar all day long.

As for plants, many berry-producing shrubs and trees attract orioles, and they nest most often in very tall trees, especially poplars. Bee balm, salvia, columbine, hollyhocks, foxglove and even the simple petunia will offer nectar for hummingbirds and even butterflies.

Be sure to choose a quality feeder for hummingbirds, one that is bug-proof, leak-proof and easy to clean. Most feeders are fun to look at but not functional in attracting them. Hummingbird and oriole feeders should all be in place by the end of April for spring feeding and in early August for fall feeding.

A water offering is a worthwhile asset. It will attract many bird species including insect-eaters, which do not come to feeders.

Large birdbaths should have rocks or an ornament in the centre to help smaller birds feel safe. Hanging birdbath bottles are ideal for finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and other small species. A great addition to a birdbath is a dripper; these come equipped with a pump, and the sound of trickling water is a real draw for birds.

With features such as these, and some effort, you can this summer make your yard a sanctuary, offering the peace and serenity that only nature can provide.

Sherrie Versluis is the owner of The Preferred Perch Wild Bird Specialty & Gift Store at 1604 St. Mary’s Road. Phone 204-257-3724; email preperch@mymts.net.

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