Building a backyard oasis can bring birds and sanity into your life
“Give me loneliness, give me nature, give me back to nature your primal sanity!” Walt whitman
I found a simple, inexpensive way to bring comfort and beauty into my life in Amarillo: feed the birds. Listen to me! I’ll tell you how I got started with bird feeding and then I’ll even share a few tips and tricks that worked for me.
Born and raised in western Colorado, I grew up surrounded by nature. Within 45 minutes from my home, I was able to hike the Grand Mesa, which peaked at about 11,000 feet. There was a plethora of forests, lakes and rivers teeming with wildlife: elk, mule deer, black bears and bald eagles.
Twenty minutes south I had the Colorado National Monument, 32 square miles of red rock canyons. It was not uncommon to see mountain lions, bighorn sheep and (oddly enough) the most beautiful lizards I have ever seen.
I had 10 acres of land, and it wasn’t unusual for me to have a mule deer head in my yard – or even a moose! My neighbor had peacocks, and they came to roost in my trees at night. I had a white owl once; he was super boring, constantly hooting at night right by my window. I’m not going to lie to you, I threw a stone at him one evening at 3 in the morning because he didn’t want to shut up! Owls not only hoot, but they chirp, hiss and howl. You would have thrown a stone at him too!
But all of this brings me to why I am writing this article; I live in Amarillo now. In the city. Far from the woods. And I find myself in need of nature. During the pandemic, I got bored and had the brilliant idea of feeding the birds.
At first, the only feathered creatures I attracted (and usually still do) are mourning doves and sparrows. At one point I had so many grieving doves, I felt like the pigeon of Alone at home. You know the ’90s movie where the kid is lost in New York. It was disgusting.
But I started to research and found ways to attract other birds. When this started to happen, I realized it was helping to assuage (not heal) my deep desire to get back out into nature. It’s a fun and easy little hobby; but, it takes some research to get it right.
So believe me, the voice of experience. Here are my tips and tricks for building your backyard oasis and not becoming the loft.
Winter is the best time to feed birds
First, the best time to feed birds is winter; they need our help, but I have researched it, and there is nothing wrong with providing food in the summer as long as you don’t get out tallow; tallow can turn rancid in the hot sun and make birds sick.
One thing you can do if you don’t want to invest a lot of money is to put nectar in bird feeders. Most people think the nectar is for hummingbirds, but tits, goldfinches, orioles, warblers, and woodpeckers love it too. You can find all of these birds in Amarillo.
You will want to hang your feeder in a flower bed filled with nectar-rich flowers or on a canopy or roof line. If you are hanging it by a window, make sure you have appropriate decals or something so that the birds do not see the pictures of trees and hit your window.
Getting to the plantation
The second thing you can do is grow plants to attract birds to your garden. Great to buy here in Amarillo, according to the trusty resource of Adubon, are as follows:
- Chokecherries will attract mockingbirds, thrashers, chickadees, chickadees, woodpeckers and my favorite orioles.
- Common buttonbush attracts wrens, jays and mockingbirds.
- The common sunflower attracts cardinals, finches and grosbeaks.
- Bee balm or lemon mint attracts orioles, cardinals and grosbeaks; it will also attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds (although I have personally never seen a hummingbird in Amarillo, I have been told they are here).
Choose your bird seeds wisely
The third thing is birdseed, be very careful with this as too much will cause you to have those mourning doves and overcrowding of birds which can cause disease to spread among the birds. The best type of seeds are black oil sunflower seeds, Nyjer, millet, cracked corn, and safflower.
To get robins to come to your yard, put some fresh apples, pears, grinder worms and, oddly enough, according to allaboutbirds.org, a very shallow bowl of grape jelly is their favorite. Blackbirds don’t eat birdseed and are foragers, so you want to have this low on the ground.
Also, last little advice on what to feed the birds, don’t give them bread! It has no nutritional value, and you’re trying to help the birds, not make them an American eating shit that doesn’t feed their bodies!
Location, location, location!
The last thing to know is where to place the bird feeders. Make sure you put them in safe places, don’t let your backyard become a cat’s hunting ground.
Birds like them near shelters like trees and shrubs. Distribute the feeders around your garden and use small feeders as they empty quickly so the seeds do not become stale. Feeders should be about the size or larger. To attract orioles and other small birds, place the feeder about 7 feet from the ground. Also, be sure to place the feeder near a shrub.
The best way I have found to feed them is with thistle socks, which is a nylon netting specially made to hold seeds like Nyjer (which they love). Remember, like opening a new restaurant, it will take time to get customers, but be patient. They will come.
Feed the birds, feed the soul
I’m sure you’re wondering how to do all of this for birds brings me back to sanity? According to Psychology Today, “Birdwatching is an inexpensive way to improve mental health.” Every time I see a new bird or a pretty bird, I run to look for my husband as if I had found gold. It puts a goofy smile on my face and brings back that feeling of being in nature.
Another thing that I read in the same Psychology Today article is that there is a theory called “attention restoration theory”, and to sum it up: just looking at nature “promotes healing and decreases stress ”.
Good luck and long live the birds and your sanity!
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