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Learning to Grow: Becoming a good bird landlord

Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 4:53 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 5:18 p.m. CST
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(rgbstock photo)
There are about two dozen types of North American birds that make their nests in man-made structures.

I have always enjoyed watching birds in my garden, especially when they take up residence in one of my birdhouses in the spring. 

This year, I am determined to encourage more bird families to make their home in my yard by becoming a better landlord.

What does it take to become a good landlord to birds?  Provide them what they need to survive and thrive – shelter, food and water.

Let’s start with shelter.  Shelter comes in the form of good vegetative cover as well as man-made structures, such as birdhouses or nesting platforms.

Some birds do not make their nests in man-made structures so they must be provided adequate coverage with trees and dense shrubbery.

Birds will feel safer if there are dense clumps of layered vegetation in which to nest and take cover.

There are about two dozen North American birds that do make their nests in man-made structures. Some of them are frequently seen in our area – Purple Martins, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice and Wrens, to name a few. 

Some of these have particular structural requirements; others are not so fussy. In all cases, a clean house is the best house. 

In the spring I spend a little time cleaning out the birdhouses.

The process is simple:

• Remove all old nesting material and bird debris

• Wash with a weak solution of bleach in water to eliminate parasites and bacteria that can harm nesting birds. 

The ratio of bleach to water is 1:10. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of bleach and dry in the sun for several hours to breakdown any remaining chlorine.   

• Repair loose pieces and protruding nails/screws to protect the hatchlings from harm.

Providing adequate food sources for birds is more than just filling a bird feeder.  Having a variety of native plants and shrubs provides the best seasonal food source. A wide variety of plants in the garden will attract a diverse bird population. Water is also essential to attracting birds. If you don’t live near a natural water source, like a pond or stream, a birdbath will work just fine.

Keep the birdbath clean; refresh the water daily; and don’t fill it too deep. The depth should be shallow enough so birds can stand in it.

These simple things will make your garden more attractive to birds and give you a better chance of becoming a good bird landlord.
• Suzanne Thorne is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 to learn more.

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