Exterior Decorating for the Birds

DSC00166

Male Hooded Oriole on stick sculpture (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

We get plenty of advice when it comes to interior decorating, but fewer suggestions when our yards are involved. More often than not, those limited ideas seldom consider all the creatures we share our outdoor living space with, especially birds. Recently, we’ve seen some fellow creature-oriented creative projects, and as we’ve implemented them in our own yard, our bird population has grown. Water features like bird baths, ponds and waterfalls naturally attract birds, as do flowers, shrubs and trees, and of course hummingbird, suet and seed feeders.  We’ve followed all of these suggestions, and our birds and other wildlife have shown their appreciation.  But if you’re interested in taking these basics to another level, there are a number of things you can do to increase both that appreciation and your number of visitors. And if you like to photograph birds, these modifications can also give you more natural photo opportunities.

 

Gila Woodpecker blends with cholla branch

Gila Woodpecker blends with cholla skeleton (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

For example, suet cake feeders look like square wire cages, designed to hold square commercial suet cakes.  These work perfectly fine, of course, but most people would prefer to take pictures of birds without a feeder in the frame. Through one of the local photography clubs, we found friends who substituted a segment of cholla skeleton for a suet feeder with great results. Dead cholla branches can be found with hollow interiors and nicely spaced ‘feeding’ holes. Just clean them up, inside and out with a hose, attach a length of looped wire for hanging and stuff a suet cake into the interior. Your suet-eating birds will appreciate the familiar surface of cholla, your landscaping will improve and you’ll get more natural-looking photographs.

 

Hooded Oriole on cholla sculpture

Drawn to a hummingbird feeder, this female Hooded Oriole rests on the cholla branch used to camouflage the shepherd’s hook (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

If you use shepherd’s hooks to hang hummingbird and other types of feeders, consider camouflaging the iron stands with branches and other plant material such as dead stalks of yucca, agave or desert spoon. You can secure the branches and stalks to hook stands with wire, making your feeder stands blend better with natural foliage. At the same time, you provide birds with more places to perch, again increasing your opportunities to get more natural photographs.  By including branches with small diameter twigs, you’ll also help your hummers, whose feet just weren’t designed for larger-sized sticks.  If you grow tomatoes and use those narrow gage tomato cages, you know how appreciative hummingbirds are of having those artificial perches. If you don’t grow tomatoes, you can still find tall flowers or vines that take to tomato cages, and hummingbirds will spend more time in your yard with more of these user-friendly perches.

Long showers at the bird spa

A newly-fledged Broad-billed Hummingbird showers under a water spray (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Water is a well-known bird attractant, and moving water is better than still water. If you have any irrigation spray emitters to water ground cover, for example, these are probably set no more than a foot or two off the ground.  Using a tall plant stake, reposition one or more of these four or five feet above the ground, add a stick or stalk sculpture (or tomato cage) within the watering circle, and enjoy the daily bird show.

Showering hummer on tomato cage

Perched on a tomato cage, a male Broad-billed takes a shower (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

If your drip system doesn’t include a spray emitter, it’s easy to add one or just replace a drip emitter with a sprayer. We did this in a couple of different places with great payback. Hummingbirds take 10-minute showers, goldfinches preen on the dripping tomato cages and orioles forage through the mist and wet leaves. With a few simple steps, you can turn your yard into a high-end spa like Miraval, but for birds.  And free of charge.

(This article was published in the July, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)

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About Bob

A lifelong naturalist, Bob's avocation is birding, including field observation, study, photography and writing. He spent a career in computers and consulting, but his free time has been spent outdoors backpacking, fishing and enjoying nature firsthand. Bob has traveled extensively, exploring and photographing above and underwater in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt and throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now retired, as an amateur ornithologist Bob studies, photographs and writes primarily about birds of the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the Feature Writer for Latin America and Caribbean Travel at Suite101.com, he has been Suite101's Feature Writer for Birds and Birding since January, 2010, and has received seven Editor's Choice awards, which are listed below. Bob also writes a monthly birding column for a newspaper in Arizona, and his work appears in the travel magazine, Another Day in Paradise, published in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. His blog, Birding the 'Brooke and Beyond, discusses birding, travel and other topics in Southeast Arizona and beyond. Bob is a member of the National and Tucson Audubon Societies, Western Field Ornithologists, Arizona Field Ornithologists, the American Birding Association and other birding and conservation organizations. Bob and his wife, Prudy, live in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills near Tucson, Arizona. To date, Bob has received Suite101 Editor's Choice awards for the following articles: • Birding by Cruise Ship in the Caribbean • The Xantus' Hummingbird, Baja California's Only Endemic Hummer • Birding the White Mountains in and Around Greer, Arizona • The Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico's State Bird • Where to Find Steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon • Birding La Bajada near San Blas, Mexico • The 2008 Christmas Bird Count at Estero del Yugo in Mazatlan
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One Response to Exterior Decorating for the Birds

  1. Cheryl Pettijohn says:

    We have a fountain and pond, have planted bushes, trees, and flowers to attract the birds and have the poles and feeders for dining. The timing of your article is just right for the next level of enjoyment for our outdoor living. Thanks.

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