House sparrows visit feeders at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center in Shelby Township this winter.  Bird feeders are one way to make  a yard attractive to birds.

House sparrows visit feeders at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center in Shelby Township this winter. Bird feeders are one way to make a yard attractive to birds.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Get birds to flock to the yard this spring

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published March 27, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Bird-watching is entertaining and educational for people of all ages, and people can even enjoy this activity from inside the comfort of their own home if they take a few simple steps.

Bill Rapai, president of Grosse Pointe Audubon and author of “The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It,” said using only native plants in the yard is a great way to draw birds, because those plants will lure the insects that birds eat.

“The local insects, the local bees, aren’t attracted to non-native plants,” Rapai said.

Hummingbirds are fascinating and beautiful, and this is the best time of year to set up a hummingbird feeder, said Steve Kramar, owner of Backyard Birds in Bloomfield Hills. He said the first hummingbirds usually arrive in metro Detroit in mid-April.

“The best chance to have one come for the whole summer is to install (a hummingbird feeder) by mid-April,” he said.

With their vibrant orange chests, Baltimore orioles are another favorite among bird-watchers. Kramar said they’re attracted to foods such as grape jelly and oranges.

Suet is a good option for birds that don’t eat seed.

What homeowners shouldn’t do is toss bread or other table scraps in the yard. While this might bring some birds, it’s more likely to draw rats and other unwanted vermin, and experts say this type of food isn’t healthy for birds.

Condo owners should check their association rules before putting out birdbaths or feeders, as some complexes prohibit them.

Even if feeders are permitted, it isn’t enough to just fill them.

“You’ve got to clean up around your feeders,” Rapai said, noting that seeds sometimes fall or are pushed to the ground by birds. “You’ve also got to clean your feeders, because feeders are a way to spread (bird-specific) disease.”

There are also no-mess birdseed mixes; Rapai said they might be more expensive, but residents can avoid a lot of cleanup with these.

Rosann Kovalcik, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Grosse Pointe Woods and a board member of Michigan Audubon and Detroit Audubon, said there are feeders that automatically close if a mammal, such as a squirrel, tries to use them, and that can reduce mess. In addition, she said homeowners can discourage rats by using bird feed treated with hot pepper, which doesn’t bother the birds.

Kovalcik said a lot of bird feeds use filler grains that birds don’t want and will knock to the ground; if in doubt, residents might be better off filling feeders with shelled sunflower seeds.

“Let birds finish everything first before you refill the feeder,” she said.

One of the simplest things is to install a finch feeder, which uses thistle seed, Kovalcik said. The seed isn’t popular with rats, but the tiny yellow finches love it.

A birdbath is one of the best ways to attract birds. Kovalcik said more birds are drawn to birdbaths than feeders. Contrary to popular belief, she said it won’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes because visiting birds will keep the water from getting stagnant. However, maintenance is crucial.

“You really should be prepared to fill the birdbath and clean it every day,” said Kovalcik, adding that this can be done by dumping the old water and using a birdbath brush.

“If you keep on top of it, you don’t end up with algae or mold,” she continued.

If the birdbath needs a deeper cleaning, Kovalcik said people can use a weak solution of water and vinegar. The birdbath should be rinsed well and air-dried. Because most birds lack a sense of smell, Kovalcik said the vinegar odor won’t deter them.

Even better is a moving water source such as a fountain or a pond with a waterfall, although these items also usually require an electrical source and possibly a filter.

“Moving water is very attractive to birds because they hear the sound of the water,” Rapai said.

Bushes, plants and trees of varying sizes make a yard bird-friendly as well.

“Make sure (the birds) have cover,” Rapai said.

Avoid pesticides and lawn sprays, Kovalcik said.

“The more native plants, the better,” she added. “Native trees provide more caterpillars, and caterpillars are basically food for baby birds.”

Bird-watching is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the country. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 86 million people in America participated in wildlife observation, the most common of which was bird-watching.

Residents can attract birds to yards of any size.

“You give them food, you give them water, and they’ll come,” Rapai said.