A gardener's relationship with birds is one of mutual benefit. The gardener provides for a few of the birds basic needs, and the birds help to keep down the insect population while treating us to an unending source of entertainment. Birds take their role as insect predator seriously. A single bird will gulp down 500 to 1,000 insects in an afternoon.
Birds have four primary needs: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise a family. As you'll see, these needs are easily met.
Food Two types of seeds, white proso millet and black oil sunflower seeds, will attract most common seed-eating birds. These two seeds should be the mainstay in your feeders. To broaden the diversity of birds visiting your feeders, add species-specific seeds such as red proso millet, black- and gray-striped sunflower seeds, Niger thistle (for goldfinches, pine siskins and purple finches), milo and peanut kernels (for chickadees and white tufted titmice).
Beef suet helps birds maintain their body heat in cold weather. Hang plastic mesh bags of suet or pinecones dipped in melted suet from tree limbs. Woodpeckers are particularly appreciative of this treat.
Water An ideal water source for birds should be about three inches deep and three feet off the ground. Motion and sound will grab a bird's attention. You can create moving water by suspending a leaky container from a branch over a birdbath. Fountains and waterfalls are favorite hangouts for songbirds, and misters place in the plants near your birdbath will attract a variety of feathered visitors.
Shelter Birds need shelter to protect them from the elements and allow them to hide from predators. Dense, twiggy shrubs and evergreens are the shelter of choice for most birds.
Nesting Sites Different species of birds have different nesting requirements, and you can find ready-made bird houses or build-it-yourself plans for almost every species of bird. Choose birdhouses that are weather resistant and have a pitched roof to shed rain. There should be holes in the sides and bottom for ventilation and drainage. A hinged or removable roof is a bonus for you because it makes cleaning much easier. The birdhouse should be cleaned after each nesting season.
When hanging your birdhouse, position the entrance hole away from prevailing winds.
Jackie Carroll is the editor of GardenGuides.com, a leading internet destination for gardeners, and GardenGuidesKids.com.