If early March finds you longing for spring, you are not alone. Spring is not only the season that migrating birds return from their sojourns to more southerly regions, but it is also the start of nesting season for migrating and non-migrating birds as well. Even though most of our Ohio species will not begin nesting until April or later, many of our local birds are already “thinking about it”–singing to attract mates, defending territories against potential rivals, checking out nesting sights, and, in some cases, changing plumage from winter drab to bright colors sure to impress a mate.
Much of what is known about what species nest where has been learned through a massive research project sponsored by the United States Geological Survey over a fifty year time period beginning in 1965. Using a combination of professional and skilled citizen scientists, the study collected data from over 4100 survey routes in the U.S. and Canada, identifying species that were present during peak nesting periods.
In Ohio, more than 100 species have been reported, with over 90 of these species reported by observers along 15 or more 24.5 mile routes. These 90 species include some of your favorite backyard bird feeder friends like cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and titmice, as well as some less commonly encountered species like Belted Kingfishers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Horned Larks.
While over 90 species of birds are widely reported as nesting in Ohio, only 20-30 species are typically reported at backyard bird feeders in our area. That leaves around 60 species that are widely found in Ohio that you are not attracting to your birdfeeder! Diet accounts for most of these “missing” birds. Adding a fruit or nectar feeder or using a fruit and seed mix may increase your chances with orioles, thrushes, or catbirds and suet may attract some insect eaters, but don’t expect flying insect eaters like swallows, swifts, or flycatchers. Mealworms can certainly improve your chances with bluebirds and other thrushes. How about a fish feeder for kingfishers or eagles? Probably not. Birds of prey or scavengers? You get the picture. For some species, feeding is probably not the best approach.
So, if feeding isn’t the answer, is there a good way to attract some of these additional 60 species to my backyard? Of course! Water is a good start–not all birds eat seed, but all birds need water for drinking and bathing. Clean water in a bird bath or better still a running fountain can attract many of these non-seed eaters. Nesting habitat can also be the key to seeing more of these birds. Here are a few suggestions:
Mount a bird house or nest box.
Birds that use houses are called cavity nesters. These include some of your favorites like chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and wrens, but also some less frequently seen birds like bluebirds, owls, Purple Martins and swallows, or even Wood Ducks. Each cavity nester has its own set of preferences, so check with us if you have questions about box specifications and mounting.
Put out raw cotton, yarn or string.
Many different species will appreciate your offerings of fiber for nesting. Watch where they to when they fly off with a mouthful and discover their nesting location!
Inspect hedges and fields before trimming or mowing.
These are favorite nesting places for many bird species. If possible, delay these activities until the nesting season is complete.
Female birds need to replace calcium lost through egg-laying. Dry you eggshells in the oven and crumble them into a pan or small tray feeder.
Observing birds during the nesting season is always a great experience–whether it’s seeing a new species in your backyard or helping one of your favorites to raise a family–either way it’s a real feather in your nest!