Over the past couple of years, we’ve found solace in mastering novel hobbies and diving deep into niche interests. For many, the involuntary global standstill inspired a sense of self-discovery and encouragement to find pleasure in life’s simpler things. The chance to look inward then became an opportunity to turn outward, even to our backyards. Between meticulously restyling gardenscapes and rediscovering our love of landscaping, homeowners found themselves admiring other creatures residing in their yards, namely birds.
Colorful, vocal and full of life, feathered visitors offer observers a window into nature that is often overlooked. Sparked by a renewed connection to wildlife, thousands of people have taken up the long-established hobby of birding during the pandemic. Sales of birdseed and bird-watching accessories skyrocketed in 2020— the National Audubon Society reported a 50% increase in profits for birding retailers across the country. Even local shops experienced a rise in interest, including Salt Lake City’s Backyard Birds, a charming shop that sells quality seed, feeders, birdhouses, and outdoor accessories. JB Leonard, the store’s manager, says part of the excitement is a result of the diversity of experiences birders can have. “We have about 30 different species of birds that regularly come into our yards in Salt Lake,” he explains. “And every yard is different, so each person is having a different experience.” As novice birders become more adept, they’re able to curate specialized habitats that attract specific birds right to their back porch.
The increase in birding among younger generations is particularly interesting to wildlife conservationists, who see the hobby as a bridge between humans and the environment. Enthusiastic home birders are restoring their yards’ natural habitats in an effort to draw more rare species of birds. Birders that venture beyond their homes might also be a potential source of funding for conservation efforts, as wildlife parks consider charging entrance fees, and the hobby motivates donations to ecological causes. It is estimated that requiring birders to purchase licenses to visit the U.S.’s 560 national wildlife refuges, like those purchased by hunters, could raise an additional $1.1 billion for efforts like wetland protection.
Birding, a hobby once dismissed as a retiree’s pastime, offers an opportunity to reconnect with and rehabilitate our environment. As Leonard explains, “If we can rebuild the ecosystems that are typically destroyed when we build our homes, we’re giving back and learning to coexist together.”
4 Ways to Create a Flock-Friendly Yard
1. Variety, Variety, Variety
Like all creatures, birds appreciate diversity. Furbishing your yard with a variety of deciduous trees, perennial flowers and drought-tolerant grasses offers plenty of opportunities for perching and grazing. Verdant landscapes and blooming flower beds also attract other critters, stimulating a cohesive food chain that encourages birds to return season after season. Some of the most popular plants among Utah’s feathered inhabitants include “flowering peach trees, hawthorns and crab apple trees,“ Leonard says.
2. Avian Maintenance
A little maintenance goes a long way for birds that nest in birdhouses in your yard. Removing old nesting material between broods ensures parasites aren’t transferred to new visitors and keeps birdhouses up to snuff for years to come. But instead of tidying up during your spring-cleaning fervor, Leonard suggests waiting until after nesting season. “Fall is a great time to get up into the trees and give your birdhouses a fresh start.”
3. Five-Star Service
If you notice birds snubbing your overflowing feeders, it’s time to consider the quality of your seed. “Birds can sense when seed has filler in it, like those small red pellets that many big-box stores add to their mixes,” Leonard explains. Instead, opt for a fresh quality seed blend. To increase your chances of seeing a specific bird, try a seed mix suited to its palate. Chickadees and songbirds prefer black oil sunflower seeds, while goldfinches favor Nyjer seed.
4. Feeders in Fashion
An enticing seed blend is best served in an equally attractive feeder. Adorn your yard with colorful feeders that are as eye-catching as they are practical. If you’re trying to attract hummingbirds, which are sensitive to ultraviolet light, choose a vivid feeder in red, pink or orange. Other species, like goldfinches and bluebirds, are more tempted by their own distinct colors. Where to place a feeder? “The answer is simple: outside your favorite window,” Leonard says.
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