The first of a three part series on attracting, establishing a photogenic environment and making top notch bird images.
Part One: Attracting
Some General Considerations
First things first, you'll need to work with the habitat you've got. Is your backyard fairly open and surrounded by open areas - or is it dense, wooded and surrounded by closed in areas. It makes a big difference as to which type of birds you can successfully attract. Some birds are equal opportunity visitors but most have a preference.
Dense areas: have good success with Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Orioles and Cardinals.
Open areas: have very good chances of attracting Bluebirds and Swallows - this is what I'm lucky enough to have available. And try as I may (and I have), Woodpeckers and Jays are just not interested. I have had some luck with Orioles, we'll talk about that in the food section.
Learn what types of birds are common to your general area, climate zone and time of year.
There's a great tool on the web from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology that gives you all the information you need about birds in your area. It's worth a bookmark.
A healthy lawn also makes a big difference for natural feeding. If you use fertilizer and insecticides, look for organic and natural types of products. Want to learn more about bird friendly yards, check it out here.
As with any type of creature, birds will look for the "big three". If you've only got one or two of them, you will get occasional visitors - but not regular neighbors. Here's a quick review, one at a time.
Shelter will be species specific so reference the Cornell Lab site above for your birding type and also visit Wild Birds Unlimited for assistance in setting up the right type of housing. An actual "bird house" is only one of two types of shelter considerations for birds, the other is natural vegetation such as trees and bushes. Not only can these provide protection for birds, but many can also function as natural food sources. Visit Gardening for Wildlife for more information on enhancing the habitat.
Just as with humans, water is a critical component for happy birds. There are many types and styles of bird baths, so choose to your personal taste - the real consideration around water is cleanliness. Birds can be highly susceptible to dirty and bacteria infested water. Change the water frequently and either scrub the bird bath or use cleaning tablets to keep it safe.
Not all seeds are created equal. Your basic mixed bird seeds will do the job alright, they'll attract everything - including Red Winged Blackbirds, House Sparrows and Cowbirds that can make it a rough neighborhood for song birds. A cleaner seed choice is safflower as it is very desirable by Cardinals and House Finches (as seen above). The rougher crowd of birds will usually stay clear of safflower.
Hummingbirds of various types can be attracted to most areas by special feeders and nectar. You can purchase "hummingbird food" but it's really just sugar water. If you're willing to take a few minutes, you can boil your own. Two very important facts, regardless if you boil your own nectar or use a packaged brand - DO NOT use food coloring in an effort to attract Hummingbirds. You've got plenty of color in the feeder itself and the dye is not healthy for the birds. It's also important to change out the food (more frequently when the weather is warmer).
Fruit and Jellies
There are many birds who are attracted to fruits such as oranges and berries - Orioles and Waxwings to name just a few. But don't underestimate the power of grape jelly! It's a cheap and easy alternative to fresh fruit and you'll also find House Finches lining up for a beak full as well.
Live food is the only real choice for certain types of birds. The best and easiest type to use are meal-worms and can usually be purchased at your local pet supply store. Mealworms kept refrigerated will stay dormant but will come to life once placed in your nice warm backyard. If you're a little squeamish about worms in your fridge, you can also try the freeze dried (in other words - dead) variety. They seem to work fairly well when other live sources are not readily available.
Ok, you should be all set for the "attracting" part. In the next installment I'll focus on building a photo friendly environment. It's easy and can be accomplished anywhere from low to no cost if you know how to proceed. This is where it really starts to get fun!
Stay in focus,