Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Birds for Beauty and Pest Control

Since my late 20s, whenever I've moved to a new rental or home, I've taken a few easy immediate steps to let the local birds see and know that my yard was to be an ideal place to visit for food, water, nesting materials and shelter. The first thing I do is find a local dumpster where I can routinely rescue baked goods, so I can toss buns and bagels and such onto the roof and my yard so that birds flying overhead learn soon to visit often. I also set out water: even a garbage can lid set on the ground and kept filled with fresh water until I dumpster dive a bird bath gives wild birds the drinking water they are so often desperate for. (In Denver each winter I'd set out trays of WARM water and set candles shielded from the wind beneath a birdbath as drinking water for birds there is frozen solid so very often). Stuffing dog hair from groomers (just ask, they will give you BAGS of it), old sweaters shredded with a razor and lint from dryers into the branches of shrubs and trees will give Mom and Dad birds materials to make the inside of their nests soft and warm for the hatchlings.

Why do this? They are beautiful to see and hear, plus their visits can do wonders to control crop-damaging pests like aphids, caterpillars and grasshoppers and grubs as they feed on them. I love to see them nest in giant rose bushes and shrubs and trees in my yard, and thanks to my Colorado friend Denny Arter, and, later, my Albuquerque rosarian friend Lee Sherman, and their gifts of lovely bird books, I now love to learn to truly "see" new birds in my gardens and then try to ID them in those books.

When I bought my retirement home here in south Tampa in 1998 it was blank beyond a few shrubs....now it is a jungle, teeming with lizards and amphibians and oodles of birds that daily add joy to my life, like the female Ruby Throat hummingbird that began visiting the Firespike (Odontonema strictum) just outside my home office window this last fall, or the Brown Thrasher that recently has begun visiting the apricot brugsmansia next to the Firespike....a real thrill to see it for a minute at a time just three feet away beyond the window glass!

The human onslaught of North America with development and pesticides and deforestation has resulted in huge, tragic declines in many song bird populations. Until humans begin breeding responsibly, destruction of habitats for wildlife, including birds, will continue and accelerate. But I am hopeful in spite of it all as more and more people make their yards bird-friendly. It does not take one cent to do this, just a decision to set out a tray of water and starchy scraps, like stale cereal, as a first, easy, free yet surprisingly rewarding first step.

I hope you enjoy these photos of some birds that have visited my gardens.


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