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Preparing for my 'big year'

With my "big year" underway, I have been doing a bit of research about the different varieties of birds native to our region and where their habitats may be. During my reading, I was quite surprised to learn how many types of birds can be found in my very own backyard. Of course, in order for these species to visit my Reisterstown dwelling, I would have to make it an attractive spot for them to frequent.

I decided to contact my friend Kari E'Nama, who turned me on to the hobby of birding, and seek some of her advice. Over the past month, she has sent me some wonderful pictures of wildlife she has spotted in her backyard, and I have been amazed at the variety of birds that reside there. So far this winter, she has seen such beautiful birds as the yellow-rumped warbler, a large barred owl, a downy woodpecker and a red-bellied woodpecker.

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Kari explained to me that many people think the best time to set out birdseed and feeders is in the spring and summer months, but in fact, the winter is when birds are in need of food more than any other time of the year. With all of the recent snow, it is especially hard for them to scavenge for food. She explained that just one sunflower seed a day can make a huge difference in a bird's survival through the winter.

Kari uses a variety of feeders and birdseed in her backyard, but her favorite variety of seed is black sunflower seed. It is reasonable in price — $12 for a 10-pound bag — and can be found in any local big box store or hardware store. Black sunflower seed attracts a large variety of birds in our area, including American goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, indigo buntings and northern cardinals. When purchasing any type of bird feed, you can simply flip the bag over to find useful information about what the best type of feeders for the product are, as well as what the ingredients are and what type of birds it attracts.

On the back of my recently purchased bag of Kaytee black oil sunflower seed, it also explains how to attract birds to your backyard. The list begins with providing food year-round, because birds spend most of their days scavenging for food. It explains that if you consistently supply seeds for the birds, they will be more likely to frequent your yard.

It is also suggests how important it is to provide fresh water for birds, not only for them to drink, but also for them to clean their feathers. There are a large variety of birdbaths available at local hardware stores and they can make a nice addition to your backyard decorations. Birds are also attracted to the sound of running water because they can listen for it, so if you have a fountain or moving water source, they will be even more apt to venture into your yard. It is suggested that the water be less than three inches deep for ease of use by the birds.

Feeders placed near bushes or under trees are more likely to attract birds, as well. This is because such foliage gives them protection from predators such as hawks. If you have ever watched a bird eat from a feeder, you will see it often spends much of the time looking around and not eating. This is because birds must constantly keep watch for their own safety. If they feel more protected under trees, they will be able to feed better.

In the winter months, it may be too cold to venture out around your yard looking for birds. Fellow birder Amy Leonette suggests that a window feeder could be a great option if you have a large yard or want to enjoy the birds from inside your house as well. There are window feeders available to hold both seed and suet. Suet is a compressed, hardened block of beef fat, often laced with types of seeds. Kari has a suet window feeder and it has attracted Carolina wrens and chickadees to her yard, as well as juncos that like to pick up the scraps of suet on the ground. Suet is especially beneficial to birds in our area during the winter months because the fat is easy for them to digest and is a good source of energy.

In addition to bird feeders, many plants can attract different varieties of birds, as well. With planting season fast approaching, it may be a good idea to pick up a copy of Birds and Blooms magazine from your local bookstore. This is a valuable source of planting ideas for people who would like to attract birds or other wildlife to their property. According to the Maryland Native Plant Society Gardener's Guideline, trumpet honeysuckle is a great plant to attract hummingbirds. The guide also suggests planting pines, maples and birches to attract orioles and bluebirds, as well as blueberries and raspberries to attract cardinals, finches and sparrows. The guide explains the importance of choosing plants native to this bioregion so that they can better adapt to the soil and more easily fend off insects. It also recommends limiting the amount of insecticide you use on the plants, because birds enjoy feasting on insects, as well.

With all of these pointers on attracting birds to your property, I am sure many local residents will be enjoying the wildlife that will come to visit. Providing food and water for these beautiful birds can not only give you a wonderful view from your window, but it could also make a huge difference for the birds looking to survive and feed their young.

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Kely Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at kellyscible@gmail.com.

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