cWeb Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
How to Attract the Birds
Content Page
Kellscraft Studio Logo




THE birds' point of view differs scarcely at all from our own in the essentials in life Protection from enemies, the preservation of the family, a sheltered home, congenial environment, abundant food, and pure water — these natural rights the birds, like men, are ever seeking.

Each spring day bringing as it does hosts of feathered travellers from the Tropics and the Southern States where they have passed the winter, how can we induce some of them to pause on the journey long enough to investigate our garden attractions and happily to become our neighbours for the summer? Some birds there are — the wild ducks and hawks, for example — that no amount of coaxing would induce to confide in man — the worst enemy or the best friend every creature has. But very many of the smaller birds, relying more on the safety and abundance of food near human settle­ ments than on the more doubtful protection that deep remote forests afford, need little persuasion to remain. John Burroughs was not the only one to feel disappointed at the scarcity of birds about an Adirondack Camp as compared with his village home.

Cedar wax-wings postpone nesting till midsummer.


If we realized how carefully and how hope­ fully our gardens and orchards are scrutinized every spring, and on what details judgment upon them is passed by the sharp-eyed inspectors, we might, so easily, with a little forethought, arrange them to the taste of the home seekers. Even in trolley nettled suburbs and in very small door-yards it is possible to make some birds, at least, feel conscious of their welcome. Large estates can be converted into great natural aviaries at one-tenth the cost of a hot­ house. Cost, did I say? Why, une pair of chick­adees in an orchard will destroy more insect eggs than the most expensive spraying machine.

It takes birds a surpris­ingly short time to resort where no gunning is allowed and very quickly, too, they learn where to avoid the silent deadly air-rifles and sling-shots of small boys; where prowling cats are permitted to lurk in ambush, and red squirrels, field mice and snakes play the role of villain in the tragedies of the nests. At the outset, every family must choose between a cat and the wild birds as pets; only heart-breaks result from the cruel com­bination.

Photograph from life by Catlin.
An early nest-builder; the bronzed grackle.


When a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, mating is the birds' one absorbing idea. Some of them, having taken partners for life in previous years, or having found mates on the journey northward, are ready to begin housekeeping as soon as they reach our home grounds. Others, though still in the agonies of jealousy or the bliss of wooing, do not long delay the serious work of life. Only the cedar waxwings and goldfish postpone nesting until midsummer, when their prin­cipal food supplies — choke-cherries and thistle seeds — are most abundant. But even in March, blue­ birds are peering about for some hole in an old hollow tree or fence rail to shelter their nest from rude spring winds. Flocks of iridescent grackles or blackbirds, as they are also called, wheeze and creak their discussions over suitable sites in the top of our tall evergreens. The robins' clear, ringing, military call is heard again from the apple trees and lawn. Dusky little phoebes timidly investigate the beams under our piazza roofs; swallows skim above our barns. A little later come Jenny Wren and Sir Christo­pher to dispute with the ubiquitous sparrow the right of possession to every sheltered cranny: the shutters of our houses, overhanging eaves, bird boxes and tree hollows. With a temper out of all proportion to its diminutive size, the house wren dashes at any intruder near the chosen home, chattering scoldings into his very ears until even the sparrow is glad to leave the place. Then how quickly bubbles up the rollicking song of ecstatic joy from the tiny victor's throat! In a free fight the bluebird, too, whose disposition is by no means so heavenly as his feathers, worsts the sparrow. Robins pay no more attention to the teasing impudence of that dingy little upstart than a St. Bernard pays to the yelps of small curs.

Blue-birds are peering about for some hole in an old hollow tree or fence

A home that once grew on a gourd-vine


Indeed, a great deal of nonsense is talked about sparrows driving away other birds. Like the down‑ trodden Italian and other peasants from the Old World, the sparrows are prepared to live here where others would starve. They kill no birds. We are too wont to attribute the results of our own misdeeds or shortcomings — the barbarities of millinery fashions, wanton slaughter masquerading as sport, the lack of good bird laws and the en‑ forcing of them, where such exist — upon these troublesome, noisy, quarrelsome little feathered gamins. Fitted to survive after centuries of competitive struggle, they cannot be exterminated. As well try to eliminate that other triumphant European immigrant, the daisy, from our fields. Just as the introduction of the honey bee from Europe must cause our native flowers and insects to undergo certain changes of structure and habit, so the introduction of the English sparrow means change, adaptation, to our native birds. In spite of the sparrows, there is already noticeable a large increase in the number of song birds wherever protective laws, reinforced by Audubon Societies and public sentiment, have operated for even a few years. Sparrows drive no birds from England.

A basket house


Protection and home being assured, the food supply becomes a burning question by June when, in well-regulated bird homes, there are little, gaping, clamouring mouths thrust above the nest every few minutes throughout the long day. In planting our gardens and lawns, why not remember the needs of the birds, if we really wish them about?

Photograph by Brownell
Poke-weed berries

That birds love trees, large old ones and plenty of them, groves of mixed species, rather than a single kind, underbrush, shrubbery and tangled vines to hide and hunt among, no one need be told; but certain trees and bushes attract certain birds more than others. Some trees there are — the cotton­ wood for example — which, from the bird's standpoint, are useful merely as perches, but others furnish food, too, or favourite nesting sites, therefore, why not choose them? If the bird-lover's door-yard is so small as to hold only one tree, no other one will attract so many feathered visitors as the Russian mulberry. Robins, catbirds, tan­agers, grosbeaks, wax­ wings, orioles and thrushes are not by any means the only ap­preciative visitors with the poor sense to prefer the insipid, sweet fruit, to the best berry God ever made. Scientific farmers are now systematically planting mulberry trees, the shad bush and June berry as counter attractions to their strawberry beds, whose fruit ripens at the same time. Myriads of flies, ants, wasps and other insects that come to sip the syrup of over-ripe mulberries, draw insectivorous birds, as well as more dainty feasters.

Photograph by Brownell
Berries of the American Holly

Probably the next best food tree for birds is the choke cherry, whose racemes of small black fruit ripen from July to September. Here congregate large flocks of crested cedar wax-wings, more properly called cherry birds one thinks when the distended gullets of these sociable gourmands are observed through the opera glass. The flickers, which seek the tree at dawn, robins and cuckoos, leave few cherries for hungry migrants on their way southward in autumn. There is always a quid pro quo in nature. Of course the birds are not the re­cipients of purely disinterested favours. By dropping undigested seeds far and wide, and so starting new colonies of plants, they repay their hosts for every favour received.

Photograph by Brownell
Arrow-wood berries (October)

Tree and bush dog­ woods, mountain ash, spruces, pines, juniper, hawthorn, viburnum, elder, black alder, wild plums, blackberries, cherries, crab apples, cur­ rants, raspberries, grapes and gooseberries, cat- brier, burning bush, moonseed, wild yam, buckthorn, sumach, holly, bittersweet, wild rose, wintergreen, partridge vine, hackberry, snowberry, kinnikinic, auralia, honeysuckle bushes and twiners, mock orange, hop vine, huckleberries, Virginia creeper, clematis, bayberries, shad-bush — these are among the many wild and cultivated trees, shrubs and vines, whose fruit attracts the birds. Some berries and seeds ripen early in summer, some in autumn, others through the winter and last until the migrants of the following spring eagerly bolt them on their way North.

Photograph by Brownell
Bittersweet berries that furnish fall provender for the birds

In the flower garden many seeds are pecked at, but the sunflowers', which give all the finch tribe a rich feast, are prime favourites. Gold­ finches, however, ap­parently prefer the blue corn-flowers or ragged sailors, which should be sown in a corner of the wild garden if not for their beauty's sake then certainly for their seeds.

That jewelled atom, the ruby-throated humming bird, delights in so many flowers and plays so im­portant a part in their cross-fertilization that he requires a separate chapter.

Birds can endure intense cold on full stomachs, but their winter larder must often be very lean. Never is hospitality so keenly appreciated as then; never are birds so welcome to us. Trimmings of beefsteak, lumps of suet and a rind of pork tied on the branches of trees near enough to the home to be watched by its inmates, attract some very interesting winter neighbours: chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, brown creepers, woodpeckers and blue jays. Minced raw meat, waste canary, hemp and sunflower seed, buckwheat, cracked oats and corn, crumbs and the sweepings from the hay loft, scattered over the ground, make a delectable hash for feathered boarders with varied appetites. Food that can be put in dishes on piazza roofs or on shelves in trees either winter or summer for such soft-billed birds as robins, catbirds, mocking birds, thrushes and orioles — the most delightful and tuneful of bird neighbours — is made of equal parts of corn­ meal, pea-meal and German moss into which enough molasses and melted suet or lard have been stirred to make a thick batter. If this mixture is fried for half an hour, it can be packed away in jars and will keep for weeks. Grated carrot or minced apple is a welcome addition.

Last autumn, when a New York family was seated around the break­ fast table, a young woodthrush flew into the dining-room through the open window. It was a straggler from a flock on its way South. Weary, hungry and faint with travel, it alighted on the frame of a picture which, by a strange and beautiful coincidence, was one of Audubon's old prints. Some branches of bright alder berries happily stood in a vase on the mantel below. Fear was instantly forgot‑ ten in the joy of feasting. After a hearty meal of the familiar fruit, a n d deep draughts o f water from a cup placed near the berries, the thrush departed as it came, but refreshed for its travels. If this denizen of the woods could forget its natural shyness under such unnatural conditions, how much more readily will invitations to feast be accepted al fresco?

Photograph by Brownell
Berries of the Virginia creeper

A combination bath tub and drinking basin


In regions where there are no brooks or lakes, birds must sometimes fly many miles for a drink. Perhaps more young birds die for lack of water than from any other cause. Not even a mulberry tree attracts so many visitors as a bath tub, which also serves them as a drinking pan, for they are not squeamish!

But see to it that the pan is raised above the reach of cats; only on large estates where none are kept is it safe to sink the pan into a lawn. Birds cannot fly far with wet feathers. They must first dry and preen them. For this reason, as well as for the cool shade they afford, trees and shrubbery should partially screen the drinking water. Where a small stream cannot trickle into a fountain, fresh water poured in a pan daily, or even twice a day at midsummer, is very gratefully appreciated when many a rare, shy bird, its bill open and gasping from the heat, seeks refreshment. If the water be deep, the birds will let it alone through fear of drowning when they stand on the brim, and tip forward as they must for a draught. A pan shallow enough for wading, or a deeper one sup­ plied with stones for the drinkers to stand on safely, furnishes more interesting sights to a household and pure fun than any other object you can watch through­ out a season. Chil­dren enjoy it keenly. Sixty-nine different species of birds, many rare warblers and migrants among them, came in one season to drink on a suburban lawn, although a tiny aggressive wren felt cocksure that he alone owned that basin.

A bird home made  from a wooden starch box


In our over-conventional gardens hollow trees or one with so much as a partially decayed branch such as the flicker, the sapsucker, the red-headed, downy and hairy woodpeckers, bluebirds, martins, wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, the smaller owls, crested flycatchers, and some other birds love to nest in, are cut down; but what substitutes for these natural shelters do we provide?

A simple type of bird box

Bird houses that a child can make

A short log sawed in two, the halves hollowed out in the centre and nailed together again with an entrance to the cavity on one side of the log, is a pattern that any village carpenter or schoolboy can adapt to the tiny wren and the large woodpecker. Wooden starch boxes, provided with sloping roofs and covered with bits of bark, may be divided into two compartments with an entrance and perches at either end, although a one-room cabin is preferable, for birds love privacy at the nesting season, however large may be their flocks at other times. The tenement for twenty families is a modern city attain­ ment for humans to which few birds aspire. There­ fore, do not make many-roomed houses or put more than one log cabin, can, gourd or box in one tree. Lodgings should be in readiness very early in the spring, lest a pair of hopeful feathered house-hunters slip by, unable to find a home.

A drinking shell above the reach of cats

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.