By Kathy Van Mullekom

Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

If you think feeding the birds is only a wintertime need, think again.

You help the birds when you put out seeds and suets year-round.

“A bird-friendly garden benefits the environment as a whole and has fewer pests, thanks to insect-eating birds,” says Susan Littlefield with the National Gardening Association (www.garden.org.)

Warm months are crucial for backyard birds.

Their long migration north leaves them fatigued, stressed and nutritionally depleted, according to birding experts.

Once they arrive in your yard for spring and summer, they begin the process of finding a mate, staking out territory, building a nest and raising their young — all while hunting for food.

Then, it’s migration time again.

Here are some tips on how to make your yard bird-friendly and healthy in many different ways:

Put out a bird buffet. Bluejays and woodpeckers like nuts, cardinals wolf down safflower seeds and hummingbirds need sugar water. Finches prefer thistle seed while bluebirds and any newborns relish fresh or freeze-dried meal worms. And all birds love suets, including the no-melt kinds for warmer weather.

“When birds arrive at a well-stocked back yard, they stay for the summer and often return the following spring,” says Elaine Cole, owner of Coles wild-bird products (www.coleswildbird.com.)

If squirrels and raccoons are problems, install baffles on your feeder posts and poles and use caged feeders. You also can deter unwanted visitors with seeds that are blended with hot, spicy ingredients such as chili peppers; birds like the spice but other critters don’t.

Select a variety of food plants. Berry- and seed-producing trees, shrubs and perennials, especially native species, provide food for birds throughout the year, not just in winter.

Replace some lawn with perennials and grasses. Converting a portion of your lawn to bird-friendly plantings that benefit birds cuts down on your mowing chores. Entice hummingbirds with brightly colored, tubular flowers such as bee balm, cardinal flower and columbines. Provide seed-eaters with nourishing snacks by letting ornamental grasses and perennials such as coneflowers and black-eyed Susans go to seed.

Give them water sources. Birds need water to drink and bathe in. Garden centers carry water features such as slow-moving fountains and bird baths that will look good in your yard and benefit birds. Keep water in the bird baths fresh to avoid algae and mosquito larvae.

Go a little wild. Let a section of your yard to go natural; pile some woody trimmings from your landscape plants in a corner of the back yard to create a brush pile to shelter birds. Scoop out a shallow depression, then add water to make a muddy slurry that will be used by robins and other birds to strengthen their nests. In the fall, rake leaves under shrubs where they create a natural mulch and provide foraging spots for ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, recommends the National Gardening Bureau.

Limit pesticide use. Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides on lawns and other plantings to help birds and wildlife — plus your family and the environment.

Spread the cheer. Encourage neighbors to join you in putting in landscaping to feed and shelter birds and provide a continuous natural link from yard to yard. In return, the birds will reward you with sweet songs from nature.

Kathy Van Mullekom is the gardening columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.

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