For the Birds “Suggestions for attracting feathered fauna”

IMG_6573BY TAMAR MYERS

It’s typical for someone to come into Wild Birds Unlimited brandishing photos of neighborhood birds.
“They’ll bring in their iPhone and go, ‘Look at what I had in my yard,’ ” employee Nora Beckjord said, laughing, “almost like baby pictures.”
The bird aficionados working at the Highland Park storefront say much of their job is chatting with customers: identifying winged creatures, strategizing how to attract certain ones, and giving seasoned advice on warding off pesky squirrels.
It shouldn’t be surprising that so many people are interested in local birds. With parks, nature preserves and an abundance of waterways, the metro area is host to 298 species of wild birds, according to the Audubon Society. The Mississippi Flyway—a migratory path where nearly half of North American bird species spend part of their lives—also runs through Minnesota. Birds in the Twin Cities have spawned associations, a June urban birding festival and an abundance of enthusiasts.
To WBU Manager Rudi Brockfeld, attracting these flying creatures is a way for urbanites to bring wildlife into their daily lives.
“It’s very easy to sit there in the morning with a cup of coffee and watch the birds out your window,” he said.
For newcomers to attracting birds, Brockfeld predictably recommends a trip to a local birding store, where the workers are guaranteed to be knowledgeable about feeding. This experience contrasts, he said, with what customers may experience at a more general store.
“You can go to any hardware store or grocery store and pick up some birdseed and maybe a feeder and put it up in your yard,” Brockfeld said. “If you ask one of the employees … it’s going to be a crapshoot if they know anything about bird feeding.”
At WBU, Brockfeld said, many of the dozen or so staff are drawn to the job because of their passion for birds.
graphic birdsEmployee Nora Beckjord, for instance, divides her time between working at WBU and teaching yoga. She came to the store after a career as an international sales director: “I just finally thought, you know, I’m done with corporate life. And now I’m just having fun.”
Tony Kurtovich, who co-owns the store with his wife, Jeanie Shackleton, said attracting wild birds does not have to be a complicated task. He, for instance, lures orioles to his yard using grape jelly, mealworms and orange halves. Attracting ground feeders such as cardinals could be as simple as sprinkling seed on the ground—although, he said, “Most people don’t like the muck.”
For new bird enthusiasts, Brockfeld recommends starting with an all-purpose songbird feeder and seed. Devotees can install feeders and food tailored to specific birds, such as hummingbirds or goldfinches. Brockfeld advises patience; birds locate food visually and may take weeks to begin visiting a feeder.That wait, though, can come with high rewards.
At the moment, city dwellers can expect to see chickadees, woodpeckers and cardinals. Baltimore Orioles that didn’t migrate in the spring, Brockfeld said, often stayed behind to build nests to raise young that are old enough to be spotted at feeders.
Around September, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and other migrating birds will begin to pass through the Twin Cities.
And aside from your typical backyard birds, the Twin Cities hosts larger creatures such as hawks and eagles that thrive by the Mississippi. Brockfeld said he’s seen a pair of peregrine falcons by the Ford Bridge and wild turkeys near University Avenue in St. Paul.
Feeding birds and installing birdhouses can also attempt to offset human-caused problems that affect birds.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, global climate change is the most serious threat to wild birds this century, causing a host of issues including disrupted migratory patterns, vanishing breeding environments and increased rates of pests and disease.
Other dangers include window strikes, city lights that disrupt migration, and roaming cats. One U.S. estimate puts the winged victims of cats alone at 1.4–3.7 billion each year. Brockfeld also pointed out another danger especially pertinent locally: Diseased trees removed by the city can mean a loss in habitats for birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers and nuthatches that nest inside the trees.
Many of these issues don’t have easy answers, but solutions that target the environmental issues as a whole, Brockfeld said, can also positively impact birds.
Smaller actions by individuals can also help—birdhouses can provide nesting areas for cavity dwellers, and suet and birdseed can supplement diets. Moves like positioning feeders within three feet of windows and installing screens can cut down on bird strikes.
And during spring and fall migrations, the DNR recommends turning off internal and external lights at night to help keep migrating birds on course.
The Twin Cities’ abundance of wildlife, in many eyes, is worth protecting.
“I took the light rail the other day past the airport and got off in Bloomington, and went to the wildlife refuge,” Brockfeld said. “Except for the airplanes flying over, I could have been out 50 miles away from the city center, instead of 10 maybe. It is just astonishing to me.”

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