Recently a couple of people asked me if I would write about attracting birds to the garden. Every year millions of Americans discover the pleasures of attracting birds. In fact, according to a survey by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, the appreciation of birds ranks second only to gardening as America's favorite pastime.
There's no doubt about it, a wide variety of birds love the home landscape. Chances are that your home grounds already suit the tastes of many species, since our human ideals of beauty and usefulness in the garden frequently result in concentrations of food, water, and shelter that are particularly appealing to birds. Problems between gardeners and birds arises when birds eat our food. If you want birds in your landscape and want to raise vegetables, fruits and berries, you'll need to protect your crops. There's all manner of bird deterrents on the market: Bird netting, artificial snakes and owls, "evil eye" balloons, etc.
Not all birds are destructive to the food garden. Many species feed primarily on insects, in fact, birds are one of nature's most effective ways of controlling these harmful pests.
Because the kids have made several bird feeders as 4-H projects, we have always enjoyed feeding and watching the birds that visit the boy's feeders. This is not to say I know much about birds. Quite the contrary. Our haphazard approach was to put the seed mix out and wait for the birds. I knew if I wrote about birds I'd have to do better than that. I thought I'll either have to 'wing it' (so to speak) or I'll have to find a local bird authority and peck, I mean pick their brains.
After checking around I found the ideal person. Carolyn Jarnagin is a local member of the Mississippi Ornithological Society and the Northeast Mississippi Audubon Society. She is a very knowledgeable person and was willing to share some of her vast knowledge with me.
First, let me say that I am not a total nitwit about birds. I do know that the popular term for bird people is not birdwatchers anymore. It's birders. And the activity they engage in is not birdwatching. It's birding. So there. Bet you didn't know that.
Mrs. Jarnagin suggests leaving your bird feeder up year round and keeping it filled with black sunflower seed only. She also suggests buying the already hulled black sunflower kernels (chips) which are available at several local stores. These eliminate the hull litter beneath the feeder and provide more feed for the money. Provide water in the garden for birds to drink and bathe in. Mrs. Jarnagin says "Birds prefer moving water rather than still. Locate the water source in an area of the yard with nearby shrubs or trees to provide cover for the birds if danger threatens them. Even a shallow bucket with a small hole that drips water into a basin is preferred over still water."
I asked her about the migratory birds and when some of these arrive in our area. I knew our purple martins had arrived last week to take up residence in our "gourd city". She indicated that her group participates in a nationwide subscriber network to keep track of migratory species. Following are some of the birds we discussed: Hummingbirds--spotted in central Mississippi and will be here any day, so get your feeders up and filled with nectar (1:4 ratio of sugar to water, changed weekly). Pine siskin--spotted already passing through here on their way further north to their nesting areas. Rose-breasted grosbeak--sighted here March 22nd on their way to nesting area further north. Wood thrush--already here, breeding and nesting. Killdeer--here already (these are not feeder birds, in other words, they won't eat from bird feeders). Warblers--not here yet, but arriving soon, insect eater, not a feeder bird. Oriole--will be here soon, fruit and nectar eater.
Non-migratory birds that winter here include the cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, chickadee, titmouse, bluebird and nuthatch.
Mrs. Jarnagin invites those people interested in birding to call her at 287-2579. She says her group meets monthly and organizes field trips and other activities throughout the year. Their interest is not just birds, but includes butterflies, wildflowers and other topics. A good source of bird information she recommends is a program on Mississippi ETV at 4:30 on Sunday afternoons (channel 12 on cable). The program is hosted by Don and Lillian Stokes, well known ornithologists.
The National Audubon Society is in the process of opening an office in Holly Springs--a first for the state of Mississippi. Mrs. Jarnagin informs me that it will be operational soon.
Thanks to Mrs. Jarnagin my boys and I will do more than just throw out some mixed bird seed this spring. Maybe my three little peckerwood fledglings are on their way to being full-fledged birders.
Lelia Scott Kelly
Extension Master Gardener Volunteer