According to the calendar, spring arrived Wednesday. It will soon be time for various songbirds (passerines or perching birds) to start nesting at the zoo and all around, including in your backyard. But just because spring has arrived on the calendar does not mean the finches, wrens and other birds will have it easy from Mother Nature. While all wild birds are protected by state and federal laws, with the exception of European starlings, rock pigeons and English sparrows, they still face challenges, and not just from Mother Nature. Providing a bird-friendly habitat is one way you can help our feathered friends deal with high winds and storms, as well as habitat loss.
If you’re considering adding new plants to your yard, consider those native plants that benefit the wildlife around you. Invasive, non-native plant species often push out the native plants wildlife relies upon. Many native flowers, bushes and trees offer food or provide nesting sites or materials for our wild friends (birds, butterflies, etc.). Talking with the experts at your local plant nursery can provide you with a great deal of the information that you will need about plants native to your area.
If your plans don’t include adding to your landscape, have no fear, you can still be of assistance. If you haven’t trimmed your trees yet, maybe you can let it wait a little longer (if it’s safe to do so). Limbs, and even twigs, or the new foliage that will soon appear will offer protection when the wind blows, the driving rain hits or a chill fills the air. If you find a nest in the tree, leave it there. The birds that occupied that nest last year may move back in for the season utilizing what they left behind or adding to it.
If you don’t have trees or big bushes around your home but would like to provide nesting opportunities, there are birdhouses or boxes that you can make or purchase. Putting up a feeder or bird bath is another way to help the birds in your vicinity. Different types of birds will be attracted to different types of bird seed you can purchase at the store. I have even heard that some hummingbirds make their way through the area occasionally. For those, you’ll need nectar, a nectar feeder and very good vision.
Opportunities to help may not end with providing food, water and/or shelter. As the season progresses, if you have birds nesting in your area, odds are you may find a baby bird out of the nest. What you should do then is based on the age of the baby bird. If its eyes aren’t open yet, it’s a hatchling and should be returned to the nest. If you can’t see the nest or reach it safely, fashion a nest from a basket or box with some dried grass inside and secure it up in the tree with the hatchling in it. The parents will come take care of it there. If the eyes are open and there are a few feathers starting to appear (will look like tubes with little bits of feather sticking out early on), it’s a nestling. Nestlings, like hatchlings, are too young to be out on their own, so the same re-nesting steps apply.
Fledglings are the next age group for baby birds. These little ones are feathered, with short tails and wings, but are not very coordinated yet. They’ll hop and flutter around, but haven’t developed the graceful flying skills of a mature bird yet. Being klutzy at this stage of life is not a sign of an injury. A fledgling being out of the nest is a natural step in its development. It’s how they learn. They can’t learn just sitting in the nest. The parents are still around and tending to it, but it needs to be out and about to develop its abilities. If it’s in danger, can you remove the threat (i.e. keep your cat, dog or children inside for a bit)? If not, carefully move it to a safer area nearby. If the situation is safe, enjoy watching it try out its new wings in the security of your backyard.
There may be times when the bird you find is injured. Window strikes are a definite hazard for birds. Sometimes the bird may just need some time to collect itself. But some injuries may require more than time. In that case, call your local veterinarian or licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism watches over native wildlife and maintains a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators. If you happen to have a window that birds tend to fly into, American Bird Conservancy (abcbirds.org) lists some options to address that issue. Be assured that creating a bird-friendly yard, offering a nest box, bird feeder or bath, or addressing an oft-struck window helps secure the future of our feathered friends.
Kristi Newland is the executive director of Lee Richardson Zoo.