Sure they’re cute, but you want to discourage squirrels from helping themselves to the contents of your bird feeder. (Photo: Richard Zazulak/Can Geo Photo Club)
Other feeding strategies used to attract birds include putting out grape jelly for robins, and offering rendered beef or mutton suet year-round for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and dozens of other backyard species. Halved oranges impaled on large spikes and sugar solutions are attractive to orioles and other nectar feeders. Laying out grit in the form of coarse builder’s sand or chicken grit will help seedeaters grind their digested seeds. Crushed oyster shells or oven-baked, broken eggshells serve as calcium and mineral supplements for birds, especially laying females.
If you’d rather not put out bird food, an alternative way to attract birds is to grow various plants that are used by birds in many ways, including for nesting locations and nesting materials, as a source of food, and as a safe place to seek shade and sleep at night. While a tiny hummingbird will happily be attracted to most nectar-bearing tubular flowers (especially red ones) for food, a large owl or hawk will favour a huge deciduous or coniferous tree to roost in or even as a place to build its nest! You can find information online for the ideal soil and weather conditions for growing various kinds of bird-loving plants in each region across Canada. But here are two general “rules-of-green-thumb:” Grow the vegetation in layers ranging from ground cover to flowers to shrubs to trees of various sizes, and choose plants so that fruit and seeds are made available year-round.
Putting up artificial homes for nesting and roosting birds is another way to help out birds and encourage them to stick around. First, do some homework to ensure that you pick the appropriate nest box and install it in the correct habitat for the kind of bird you’d like to attract. Avoid cute, ornately-painted boxes, but instead use ones built of wood, such as cedar, that naturally shed water. Waterproof stain or paint in earthy colours, including greens, greys, and browns, is okay for the outside only. Cutting grooves or providing ladder-like steps inside will assist the young in leaving the box. Prevent predators from accessing the box contents by installing slippery, cone-shaped baffles on the trunk or pole and by having the entrance hole eight inches higher than the bottom of the box. Minimize your visits to see the nest contents; cleaning of the box is controversial and need only be done if the nest material is especially dirty or damp. Alternatively, you can just leave out berry boxes filled with smallish pieces of various nesting materials such as dry grass clippings (pesticide-free!), bark strips, pine needles, plant fluff, feathers, and dead twigs and leaves. Do not offer dryer lint, yarn, string, thread, plastic strips, or tinsel.