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It’s so important for birds to have somewhere safe to nest, and many of us are keen to help them. By preparing your yard for birds this nesting season, you will be protecting local wildlife and helping it to thrive.
How to Help Birds during the Nesting Season?
If all of us did our bit to help birds during nesting season, then there may not be as many declines in bird populations around North America. There are plenty of simple things you can do right in your backyard. Doing a combination of the below tips will give the birds the safest space to nest.
Keep Yard Maintenance Tasks to a Minimum
Birds are largely timid creatures, and they become even more careful when it comes to nesting season. It is important not to disturb them when they are nesting, so try to keep noisy tasks to a minimum. This includes things like mowing the lawn, pruning shrubs, and trimming hedges. If possible try to do these things between September and February before the nesting season starts.
What’s more, if you trim the trees and hedges back too much, this will limit the number of places birds can nest. They need good shelter and cover during nesting season, and a lack of trees also means a lack of nesting materials.
Install Nest Boxes in Your Yard
One of the best things you can do to help nesting birds is to put up nest boxes. There are several different types, so it’s important to do some research before you choose the best ones for your garden.
There are a lot of great resources online to help you find out which birds are common in your local area. This will then allow you to choose the right kind of nest box. NestWatch is excellent because it not only gives you important information on nest boxes, but it’ll also tell you the types of food to leave out for the birds.
You will also need to think about the size of the opening, as this will determine what types of bird can use it. The entrance hole needs to be large enough to let the birds in but not so big that predators can easily access it. A good way to prevent predators from gnawing at the entrance is to use a bird box with a metal ring around the opening. Also avoid nest boxes with perches as this gives a predator a foothold which makes it easier for them to reach into the box.
It’s also worth considering when and where you will place your nest boxes. Make sure that you have them out in time for nesting season. Placing nest boxes in the colder months also helps to give the birds somewhere warm to take cover.
In terms of placement, the boxes should be easily accessible to the birds with a clear line of sight to the opening. However, you must not place them in a position where they will receive long hours of direct sunlight, as this can cause the birds to overheat. A shady spot is always the best option. Make sure that your chosen spot is also protected from the elements such as wind and rain.
Most people choose to attach bird boxes to the side of their house, a tree, or even a purpose-built pole. But before you put it up, make sure to check the height that your local birds nest at. Most species will require the boxes to be between three and six feet off the ground, but some prefer them much higher, like the woodpecker.
Finally, don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to just one nesting box. The more you can provide, the more birds you will help. Although, you should make sure to space them out evenly to prevent the birds from becoming aggressive or territorial.
Put Out Nesting Materials
As well as providing a nesting box, you might also supply the birds with additional nesting material, especially if there isn’t a lot available naturally in the local area. One thing you should avoid using is dryer lint. A lot of well-meaning people put this out for birds, but it’s quite dangerous as it can cause the nest to collapse and will soak up water.
Instead, try using natural items such as dry leaves, grass clippings, twigs, moss, plant fluff, and even snakeskins; if you were wondering what to do with your pet’s latest shed!
It is also important to avoid putting out man-made materials like paper, plastic, aluminum foil, and tinsel. Anything that could not be found in the bird’s natural habitat isn’t going to serve as good nesting material.
While it can be tempting to put these materials into the nesting box, it’s better to leave them where the birds can find them so they can choose what they want and make a nest that suits them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with how you offer the materials.
Hanging a kitchen whisk with materials tied around it or including them in a suet feeder is one way to offer them. Alternatively, you might drape materials over plants and other vegetation around the yard or leave them in baskets.
Keep Predators Out of Your Yard
Birds will only nest where they feel safe. If your garden is filled with predators, they will likely find somewhere else. In order to provide the safest space, there are a few things you can do to limit the number of predatory animals that visit.
Cats, both domestic and feral, are one of the biggest problems for birds. If you have a cat, make sure to keep it inside as much as possible during nesting season. We realize that cats also need exercise in an outdoor space but try to limit their access to areas where the birds are nesting. The same should be done with pet dogs who may attempt to attack birds.
Lower nests are particularly vulnerable to cat and dog attacks, but since cats are adept climbers, you should keep an eye on them wherever they go.
Pets can be problematic when the fledglings leave the nest as these babies are not yet able to fly. They can be found hopping around the ground with their parents in close proximity. However, if a cat or dog were to approach them, they would have no way of escaping and would face almost certain death.
Squirrels are also a huge problem, and if you have bird feeders hanging, they will show an interest in them. The most effective way to deter them is to use a baffle which will stop them from being able to jump down onto feeders. Also, install these on birdhouses as it is not uncommon for squirrels to try to reach in and eat the eggs.
These baffles are also effective at deterring snakes, but you should also be sure to place your bird boxes on a metal pole if there are snakes about as these are more difficult for them to climb. If you find a snake in your yard, relocate it if it is safe to do so.
As surprising as it may be, some insects can be a threat to birds. Most notably, the praying mantis will latch onto hummingbird feeders. While they are beneficial to your garden, you should remove them from the feeders to prevent them from attacking the birds.
Provide High-Protein Food
During nesting season, birds require high protein foods to keep their energy levels up. What’s more, when birds receive higher levels of protein, they are able to produce more eggs. There are lots of options including the following:
- Suet is a hardened beef fat which is safe for birds. You can put the suet into an onion sack and hang it five to six above the ground. Do keep in mind that suet goes bad quickly, especially in hot weather, so serve it in cooler months or be sure to change it daily.
- Peanuts are packed with protein and a favorite for many birds. Be sure to offer these in a feeder that doesn’t allow the birds to take whole peanuts, as these can be a choking hazard when fed to the babies. If you don’t have peanuts or would prefer not to use them, peanut butter is a great alternative.
- Some insect eating birds will love mealworms, and these can be offered in a special bowl-shaped feeder. Not only are they a great protein source, but they’re also packed with calcium which is just important for bird reproduction.
Some people put out bacon fat thinking it is beneficial for birds. While they do like it, it contains compounds that could cause health problems in the long term, so this one is best left out.
Put Out Eggshells for the Birds
When mother birds are developing their eggs, they use a lot of their calcium reserves so it is essential that they have a way to replenish this. Some of the foods we discussed in the previous section are high in calcium but it can also help to scatter eggshells over the lawn as the birds will eat these to top up their calcium.
What’s interesting is that birds will naturally find shells, and it isn’t uncommon to find bits of snail shells in their nests.
When offering these to the birds, make sure that you wash them well to remove any egg residue and crumble them up into small pieces.
Having a water source for birds at any time of the year is important, but even more so when they are nesting. This gives them fresh water to drink and in which to bathe, so it serves a dual purpose. What’s more, the parent birds will use this water to take to their chicks as while many will produce their own, they still gather it from outside sources for their young.
You don’t need to install a fancy water feature although if you have a pond, that is excellent. Something as simple as a birdbath or even a shallow bowl of water will work just fine.
It is incredibly important to make sure that you keep your birdbath clean and well maintained. This will lessen the chances of disease spreading among birds so make a habit of cleaning it out around once a week. If you don’t, you will notice that it quickly becomes filled with droppings, algae, and other dirt.
You can use normal household cleaners but do make sure to rinse the bird bath fully to remove any residue before refilling it.
Avoid the Use of Herbicides & Pesticides
It might seem convenient to use chemicals in your garden to keep insects and weeds at bay, but this could be detrimental to the bird population. You see, lots of birds feed on insects that are killed with pesticides and this diminishes their food supply.
As we have learned, it is essential for birds to get a lot of protein during nesting season and bugs provide this by the bucket load. Without them, the birds won’t thrive. What’s more, since they’ll eat so many you won’t need to worry about pests attacking your plants as the birds will take care of the problem for you.
What Month Do Birds Nest?
Different bird species nest at different times of the year, but generally speaking you can expect avian visitors anywhere between January and July.
The earliest bird you may see is the western screech owl which nests as early as January and February. However, some species such as the house finch and pine siskin may nest all the way up to mid-summer, around July.
Most species will nest between March and June but some will nest twice in one year. An example of this is the song sparrow which has its first nesting season in April to May and then nests again around July.
How Long Will Baby Birds Stay in a Nest?
If you are wondering how long birds will nest in your garden, then the answer is just as varied as when birds will nest.
Generally speaking, bird eggs will incubate for anywhere between 12 and 18 days, depending on the species. The American robin has one of the shorter incubation periods, while the mourning dove can last up to 19 days.
After this, the young birds will stay in the nest for varying lengths of time. Birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird will leave the nest after as little as 18 days. Other species, like the American crow, may stay in the nest for up to 35 days.
Most baby birds will leave the nest around the 20-day mark. If they leave too early, they face the risk of not being able to fly properly, which could put them in danger from predators and other factors.
What to Do If You Find an Abandoned Nest with Eggs?
In a lot of places, it is illegal to move or otherwise interfere with birds or their eggs. So the best thing to do if you find abandoned eggs is to leave them where they are. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) states that you could face up to six months in jail and a hefty fine.
Taking care of wild bird eggs is no mean feat which is why it is best left to the birds. In some cases, the nest may appear abandoned when it truly is not. However, if you find an egg on the ground, it is OK to put it back into the nest if you can find it.
If you have scared the parents away then there’s no need to worry, in most cases, they will return once they feel safe again. The best thing to do in this situation is to walk away and allow the parents to return. You can keep an eye on the nest from a distance, and if they do not return, you can contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
These professionals are properly trained in taking care of wild animals and bird eggs and will be able to take the most appropriate course of action. You will likely need to show the person where to find the eggs as opposed to taking the eggs to them.
Can You Move a Bird Nest?
If a bird has just started to make a nest in an inconvenient location, you can encourage it to move on unless it has already started to lay eggs. However, you may not move an active nest as this is against the law according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918.
You also have to be very careful when finding a nest as if you scare the parents away, there is a chance that they won’t return, and the chicks may perish. When birds build a nest, they choose the location very carefully. This may involve being in a sheltered spot, out of the way of predators and in a location close to food. By moving the nest, you may upset the natural balance of things and put the birds at risk.
Under the MBTA, you could be fined or given a custodial sentence if you interfere with a nest in any way. If you require an active bird’s nest removing, for example, if you locate a nest that has been built in an unsafe location, you should contact your local wildlife rehabilitator, who will safely be able to relocate the nest for you.