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Attracting birds to your backyard

When it comes to finding birds, the very best place can be your own backyard. Improving the habitat in your backyard can make it an oasis for both resident and migratory birds. In this article, Brenda Carroll shares some of the secrets to her backyard in northeastern Oklahoma and the marvelous birds she is able to attract and photograph.

Northern Parula (left) and Black-and-white Warbler

Canada Warbler

My backyard is a perpetual work in progress. It's not perfect and a professional landscaper did not create it. Fortunately, some things have been here for years. For instance, wonderful, beautiful tall pine trees. I'm amazed at how many species find some source of food and nutrition from these trees. 

Every year I add something different and interesting to the landscape, keeping in mind first the beneficial aspects it will provide to wildlife. The aesthetic value is a plus, but secondary. The landscape design can pretty much be your own. Just be sure it incorporates the essentials and that the plants are beneficial in that they provide food and/or protection for wildlife.

Over the years, as I study and learn more about "my" birds and their behavior, I try to be smart about the choices and placement of everything, including plants, feeders, and structures. I try to choose plants that will thrive in the soil, water, and weather conditions in my part of the country. Then I just cross my fingers and hope that as it grows and matures, it blends and looks good in the overall scheme.

I already have in mind what will be added next year. I just read an interesting article about canebrake (bamboo). The cane thickets make great wildlife cover. Indigo Buntings, Northern Cardinals, Hooded Warblers, Evening Grosbeaks, waterthrushes, and other songbirds us it for refuge from predators. At least five species of butterflies need cane for their caterpillar stage. Researchers have found that it is rich in phosphorus, calcium and crude protein and is the most nutritious native grass forage available in the southern United States. I have a creek in the lower acre which I plan to plant along the inside banks for protection as well as to prevent or inhibit soil erosion.

I suppose the most focus I've given has been around the water features. Driftwood, old knotty stumps or rocks around the water area are great for perches. Hostas, ferns, and grasses add to the aesthetic value and provide shade and shelter. The strategically placed perches make it much easier for an aspiring wildlife photographer, yours truly, to create a nice picture portraying the subject in a natural environment. Most of the pictures posted here were taken around my bubbler and pond. I suppose, however, most importantly, it's just a good thing to do because the birds appreciate it. 

This bubbler, and the sound of moving water it creates, is a powerful bird attractant.

The natural beauty of this pond makes it an ideal setting for bird photography and provides a wonderful place to relax.

Another important element of the landscape that has become very valuable to me personally has been the protection and shelter the dense shrubs and hedges provide. Wherever I place a feeder, and I have several, it will be near one of these in which the birds may quickly disappear if they sense danger.  My environment attracts predators in addition to all the little pretty birds. For the last six years, Cooper's Hawks have been returning to nest and raise their young. My yard seems to be a great training ground. 

The National Wildlife Foundation certified my yard and nothing would bring me more satisfaction than knowing my yard encouraged others to create their own escape to nature. I begin and end everyday in my backyard. It is good therapy for any situation. It is so thrilling and rewarding to me when migrating birds come to vacation here, or drop by for a visit--relieved there's a place on their journey back home to rest and refresh themselves. I don't believe anything has brought me more peace and pleasure than sitting in my own backyard. 

Here are some additional recent photographs from my backyard. This was the first time I had ever seen a Canada Warbler (above). A great life bird in my own yard!

Fall 2007

Baltimore Oriole

Wilson's Warbler

Spring 2007

Northern Parula

Blue-headed Vireo

Brenda was previously a featured photographer on this site. Enjoy more of Brenda's photographs in her photo gallery.

Developing a backyard like Brenda's takes time, but with patience and persistence the habitat of almost any yard can be improved. Even small yards will support a natural looking water feature, which will really add to its bird friendliness.

To help with your planning, here are ten tips for attracting birds to your backyard, compiled from The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds, By Stephen W. Kress, published by Cornell Press.