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Most of you reading this will be familiar with the idea that birds need a safe haven to nest and feed. By attracting birds to our backyards, we can help to meet this need but many of us are unknowingly harming birds by some of the things we do in our gardens.
Being aware of some of the most common hazards to backyard birds, we can all ensure that we provide the most welcoming and safest environment for our flighted friends.
In this guide, we will discuss some of these threats and how we can avoid them when welcoming local avian life to our backyards.
So many homeowners use chemicals such as pesticides in their backyards without giving a second thought to how these products might harm wildlife. We’ve probably all been guilty of it at some point but once you understand how pesticides can be harmful to birds, we’re sure you’ll want to find a natural alternative.
Liquid chemicals can get into water supplies such as ponds, puddles, and bird baths and if the birds consume this, they will be poisoned. Similarly, if a bird were to eat a granular chemical, for example, a weed killer, this is also toxic to them.
We have to consider that many of the insects we are looking to get rid of are important food sources for birds. When birds are welcomed to your garden, it’s unlikely you’ll have pest problems as our feathered friends are excellent pest controllers.
However, if you must use pesticides then you must make sure to follow the instructions carefully. Most problems arise because of the incorrect use of these products.
You may also consider alternative ways of getting rid of common garden pests. For example, using vinegar on weeds and opting for something like essential oils to keep critters off your plants.
2. Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is certainly a low-maintenance way to give your garden a green appearance but while it might look great, it’s not ideal for birds.
You see, birds are constantly using your grass for all of their basic needs. Many ground-feeding birds will pick insects and worms from the soil beneath the grass so it serves as an important food source. Moreover, birds are using pieces of grass and debris that’s found within it to build their nests.
If you use artificial turf, then you’re taking away the birds’ access to some of the things most essential to their survival. For those that are actively looking for ways to attract birds to the garden, this is not a good idea.
However, if you are really struck by the idea of having artificial grass, there is still the potential to have a small, inconspicuous area of real grass, perhaps at the bottom of the garden, where birds can take everything they need.
3. Outdoor Lighting
Outdoor lighting looks great and it certainly helps to illuminate pathways in the garden. But it isn’t necessarily very good for birds. One of the main reasons for this is that the birds are thrown out of balance when bright lights suddenly come on when it gets dark. The birds may mistake this for dawn and begin singing. Some birds, especially robins, will alter their feeding times according to this artificial light.
For nocturnal bird species, such as owls, outdoor lights can make hunting a lot more challenging. But one of the main concerns for birds when it comes to nighttime lighting is that it can cast reflections on your windows and birds may fly into them. There are a worrying number of bird-window collisions in the US every year but this number could be decreased by simply turning off the lights.
It is estimated that anywhere between 100 million and 1 billion birds become fatalities in the United States each year as a result of colliding with a window. Now, we are of course not going to suggest that you remove all the windows from your property but being aware that they are a hazard is important.
There are plenty of ways that you can make your windows more visible to birds who may otherwise think that their reflection is just an extension of the landscape.
Adding decals and stickers to your windows will make them more visible to birds as well as using things like bar soap to add markings to the glass. You can also paint patterns on the window and since you can get creative here, it doesn’t have to ruin the appearance of your home. That said, painting a grid on the window is often thought to be the most effective pattern and you can also do this using colored tape.
Birds are preyed upon by a wide range of animals including cats, raccoons, snakes, and even larger birds. While we cannot stop the natural order of life, we can provide some protection from predators for the birds that visit our yards.
If you have a cat, you should try to keep it indoors when the birds are at their most active. You might also consider installing a large outdoor enclosure where your cat can safely play without upsetting local birdlife.
Birds are also victims of egg theft and some of the most common culprits for this are things like hedgehogs, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, other birds, opossums, and chipmunks. To protect bird eggs one of the best things you can do is to place nesting boxes well out of the way of predators and don’t give them a way of being able to access the boxes.
For example, place the boxes on high metal poles that are hard to climb and use nest guards to further prevent predators. While the nesting boxes should have good cover, it’s also wise to place them somewhere that predators cannot jump on top.
Using certain scents can also help to deter predators. For example, cats don’t like the scent of pepper, lavender, rosemary, or citrus among others.
6. Non-Native Plants
We are all told that having lots of plants in our gardens is a good way to attract wildlife, and this is true, provided that you are using native plants.
The reason for this is that local birds will feed off of native species and when you fill your yard with non-native plants, these may not act as a suitable food source for the birds and other wildlife in your garden. One of the biggest threats to birds right now is the loss of their natural habitat so it’s essential that we support them by planting native species.
There are lots to choose from including but certainly not limited to the following:
- Sea oats
- Maidenhair fern
- Eastern redbud
- Spotted wintergreen
- Crested dwarf iris
- Christmas fern
- Virginia creeper
- Rosy sedge
- Bee balm
If you really want to include non-native species in your garden then it’s best to keep them to a minimum. We would also advise keeping them in pots so that they do not become invasive.
7. Dirty Bird Feeders & Bird Baths
You wouldn’t eat or drink from dirty containers so neither should you expect birds to. When bird feeders and bird baths are not kept clean, there can be a build-up of bacteria, disease, and other nasties.
There have been several calls over the last few years for homeowners to take down their bird feeders to stop the spread of avian diseases. Most notably, there were outbreaks of avian flu and thousands of instances of wild birds dying from salmonella poisoning. Taking down bird feeders will allow the diseases to come under control; you can always place the feeders back out again when things have calmed down.
But even in the absence of an outbreak, good hygiene is essential for your baths and feeders. Not only will this give the birds a more pleasant experience, but it will prevent a build-up of disease-causing bacteria in the first place.
8. Improper Bird Box Placement
Birds are only going to be attracted to your garden if they feel that there is somewhere safe for them to feed and nest. Choosing the right location for your bird box is imperative and when it isn’t placed correctly, this could be a serious hazard for the birds.
One thing that people must keep in mind is where the sun rises and sets, as having too much sunlight on the bird box can be dangerous. If the box faces due west, it will get extremely hot inside, and most birds probably won’t use it.
You must also consider where predators may be a problem and choose a location for your bird box that’s going to be well out of their reach. As we discussed earlier, placing boxes on a metal pole makes it difficult to climb, and nest guards or baffles will make life even more of a challenge for predators.
Also, be sure to choose a location where the box is naturally camouflaged by trees and foliage. This will make it more difficult for predators to spot and will give the birds the privacy, shelter, and safety that they need.
9. Garden Netting
If you grow fruit and vegetables in your garden then there’s a good chance that you use netting to prevent animals from getting to your crop.
The problem for birds is that it is easy for them to become tangled in the netting, especially if it is not tight.
Instead of using netting, there are other viable ways of keeping animals out without potentially putting their lives at risk. For example, you can use fruit cages and hoops which can be put over the plant for protection. Whichever method you use, make sure to regularly check the setup to ensure that it is taut which makes it less likely that birds will become trapped.
10. Nutrient-Poor Foods
How many times have you thrown scraps of bread out onto the lawn for the birds? We’ve all done it with nothing but good intentions but bread is actually pretty bad for birds. While the bread itself won’t harm them, birds will fill up on it despite the fact that bread has no nutritional value for birds. This means that while they may have full tummies, they aren’t getting what they need.
There are several other foods that you should avoid giving to birds, and you can find a detailed rundown of these in our kitchen scraps for birds article.
One of the things you should do, however, is to make sure that the birds are well fed during the winter and when the nesting season comes around. During the nesting season, crushed eggshells are brilliant for female birds as they provide them with the calcium they need to make their eggs.
In winter, you can offer foods that have a higher fat content as this will keep the birds’ energy levels up over the cold season. This can include things like sunflower seeds, peanuts, fat balls, and nyjer seeds, among other things.
11. Garden Maintenance Tasks
Now, we know that you want to keep your garden well maintained and looking its best so we aren’t telling you to suddenly down tools and let it grow into a jungle. With that said, it pays to think about how your garden maintenance affects the birds and come up with ways that it can be as least disruptive as possible.
For example, when you mow the lawn, if it is cut too short, this reduces the number of insects and directly impacts the birds’ food source. Try to set your mower to a slightly higher height. You can still have a manicured lawn but one that is more welcoming to the birds.
A lot of the tools we use to keep our gardens neat and tidy are powered and make a lot of noise. Mowers, chainsaws, weed wackers, etc will all create a serious disturbance to birds, particularly when it’s nesting season. If you can avoid using powered garden tools during nesting season, all the better. But if you absolutely must maintain your garden at this time, why not try using a rotary mower or some manual trimmers?
If you need to cut back a hedge, then it’s often best to wait until the end of summer after all the birds have left the nest. You risk causing the adults to flee when cutting the hedge back too early, leaving nestlings without the care they need.