Activities: Backyard Birds
Updated: Mar 28
BE A CITIZEN SCIENTIST – GO BIRDING!
As I mentioned in my video post yesterday, for my environmental studies capstone, I am conducting bird point counts at Colby-Sawyer and around New London to compare bird populations and ultimately make landscape recommendations for the maintenance of bird habitat on campus. Another goal of the project is to develop a baseline of the bird species that utilize the New London area to be compared against future studies. You can help! Throughout the summer, and even the year, you will be able to submit to me the birds that you observe in New London, whether it be in your backyard or on a walk. Record your findings in the Excel spreadsheet and submit your results!
Notepad and pencil
Field guide or Audubon Bird guide app (optional)
1. Watch the point count video from the previous post and decide if this is the method you would like to choose when you go birding.
2. Watch the bird identification video from the previous post if you would like to brush up on your bird species identification.
3. Choose your birding location and bring a notepad to mark the species and number of individuals you saw.
4. Have fun birding! There is no need to identify every bird you see!
5. Download the excel spreadsheet from the previous post.
6. Record your data in the spreadsheet.
7. Email your completed spreadsheet to firstname.lastname@example.org (optional)
8. Record your data on eBird (optional). See instructional video in previous post.
9. Repeat as many times throughout the summer and year as you’d like!
Cross off the boxes that you see. If you can identify the species, you can write it in the box! Email me your completed bingos if you would like at email@example.com.
Just like we need wood or brick to build our homes, birds need materials to build their nests. You can help the birds to find the materials they need. Below are each bird’s favorite nest materials. You can find many of these around you home and leave them in your yard or in a basket for the birds.
SNACK TIME FOR THE BIRDS
Different birds like different foods - just like each of us has a favorite ice cream flavor. Here are some favorite treats of different birds. You can simply put them out on a rock, porch railing, or suet holder or follow the recipes below.
Peanut Butter Pine Cone
Unsalted peanut butter
A plastic bag
1. Find a pinecone outside.
2. Use a spoon to coat the pinecone in peanut butter (unsalted is best for the birds).
3. Add about a half cup of birdseed to a plastic bag.
4. Put peanut butter pinecone in bag and shake to coat with birdseed.
5. Tie a string around the top stem and tie to a tree branch.
Summer Bird Feeder Wreath
An old wire coat hanger
An assortment of fruit (orange slices, grapes, apple slices, cherries, or bananas will do)
1. Bend an old coat hanger into a circle.
2. Using wire cutters (with adult help) make a cut at the top near the hook. If you can unwind the wire at the top, that may work even better.
3. Skewer the fruit slices onto the coat hanger.
4 parts water to 1 part sugar
Hummingbird feeder (available at most hardware and garden supply stores).
1. Heat water on stove (with adult help) until it is almost boiling.
2. Take the water off the heat and stir in sugar until it is dissolved.
3. Let cool and add to hummingbird feeder.
4. Hang the feeder in an easy-to-see spot in your yard or outside of a window.
Most hummingbird feeders are red because hummingbirds are attracted to the color. Most red flowers found in nature are tailored to the hummingbird’s needs.
PLAN A BIRD-FRIENDLY BACKYARD
ages 13 - adult
To create spaces for migratory and resident birds to rest, forage, nest we must set aside the idea of the “well-manicured lawn” and conventional landscaping practices.
This means leaving less maintained spaces in our yards and landscaping with native plants. Some ideas to consider may be:
Leaving some downed twigs
important nest material
Creating a brush pile instead of burning this material
brush piles provide great shelter for both birds and birds’ food
Not using pesticides
often, what we think of as pests, birds think of as food
Minimizing lawn spaces
lawn is essentially a biodiversity desert
30 to 60% of freshwater in American cities is used for watering lawns
Landscaping with native plants
these provide more food and habitat for birds and other local animals
native oak trees support more than 550 species of butterflies and moths alone while the non-native ginkgo tree only supports 5 butterfly and moth species
native birds need native insects and plants that have co-evolved with them to provide necessary nutrients. For a neat explanation of local co-evolution see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCAvBmY7ZgA
a study in suburban Pennsylvania showed that yards with native plantings as compared to non-native ornamentals had eight times more Wood Thrushes, Eastern Towhees, Veeries, and Scarlet Tanagers (all species of conservation concern)
Internet access and https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
A piece of paper (graph paper works well)
1. Visit https://www.audubon.org/native-plants and enter your zip code (you do not need to enter your email). Explore the native landscaping plants for your area and what birds are attracted to them. You can narrow down the list based on plant type and the type of bird you may want to attract to your yard.
2. On a piece of plain paper or graph paper, sketch out your existing yard and home. If you do not have a yard, sketch out a front step or balcony that you could add container plants to. It does not need to be perfect.
3. Choose some native plants from the Audubon website and design a bird friendly backyard by sketching in the new plan.
BUILD A BIRD HOUSE
ages 15 (with adult supervision) - adult
Follow the directions below to build a birdhouse that will be suitable for most common backyard birds that nest in cavities (swallows, wrens, and bluebirds). We have used this plan for many birdhouses in my yard, field, and orchard and almost all are full this summer. Keep in mind that birdhouses will only be used by cavity nesting birds but you can build nesting shelves (https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/robin_nestbox.pdf) for birds such as robins, phoebes, and barn swallows.
Hand saw or power saw
1 ½ inch drill bit
Small drill bit (< ¼ inch)
Wood (scrap wood or a 1”x6’x8’ pine board will do)
2 long exterior screws
Metal banding or zip ties (if attaching to pole)
Wood glue (optional)
Galvanized exterior nails (approx. 2 inches)
1. Measure and mark out cuts on wood based on the dimensions shown in the diagram below. Cut along marks with a hand saw or power saw.
2. Use a 1 ½ inch drill bit to drill a hole in the piece of wood to be used at the front of the birdhouse (5 ½ x 9) approximately 1 ½ inches down from the top of the board. Use the smaller drill bit to drill 6-8 holes in the bottom piece for drainage.
3. On your work table, dry assemble the pieces to look like the finished product to get an idea of how the pieces will fit together.
4. Using two or three nails, nail one of the sides to the back making sure that the bottom of the side and the bottom of the back is flush (the back will be taller).
5. Nail the front (with the hole at the top) to the side that already has the back attached. You should have three sides together now.
6. Fit the bottom piece inside of the three sides and nail to attach it.
7. Nail the roof onto the birdhouse. It will overhang the front by about one inch.
8. You will attach the fourth side last because it will swing open like a door so that you can clean the birdhouse before each nesting season. To do this, you will only attach it with two nails. One from the top left and one from the top right (from the front and the back), each about a half inch from the top. Leave 1/8 of an inch at the top or sand the top edge to make it round so that the door can swing open.
9. Looking at the birdhouse from the front, drill a small hole in the bottom on the side of the house that has the door in it. The hole will go through the front panel and a bit of the side door. A screw will be added as a “latch” to hold the door in place.
10. Optional: if you are making this house to specifically attract bluebirds, consider adding a “ladder” on the inside of the house. Bluebirds prefer this because it is easier for them to get out of the house. This can be made by taking 3 – 4 small strips of wood or Popsicle sticks and gluing them on the inside below the hole with wood glue.
11. Once the birdhouse is assembled, use primer to coat the house on the outside.
12. Once the primer is dry, paint with the color of your choice.
13. Use two long exterior screws to screw the top panel to a tree or barn.
14. If attaching to a pole, use metal banding and two screws or zip ties.
If you are looking to build a more specific birdhouse, the dimensions that birds prefer are outlined below. This table also provides dimensions for forest birdhouses.