Above: The American robin has become known as a harbinger of spring. All photos by Isadora Pennington.
It’s the year of the bird! 2018 has been deemed the Year of the Bird by 150 organizations — including the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International — in celebration of the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which protects migratory birds from being hunted, captured, killed or sold.
Celebrate the year by enticing birds to your home. You can start simply by purchasing a bird feeder for your backyard or porch. Feeder styles include hopper, platform, tube, suet and window feeders, and specialized items like hummingbird feeders can bring the types of birds you want to attract to your property.
This is the perfect time to set up bird-friendly feeders, baths and houses, said Joel Lehmann, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Atlanta. “Early spring is the best time of year,” he said, “but you can purchase and install a birdhouse anytime. Owls, who are cavity nesters, are generally looking to start nesting in the fall to winter, but most songbirds are nesting in the spring and summer.”
An important consideration in choosing your feeder, Lehmann said, is to pick one designed to prevent spreading illness among the birds. Cleaning and maintaining your feeder, and regularly disinfecting your birdbaths, will stop the spread of disease and keep your backyard friends happy and healthy. Lehmann pointed to the EcoClean line of feeders. “Every surface of these feeders is coated with an antimicrobial agent to help prevent molds and bacteria from growing, keeping birds safer as a lot of disease can be transmitted at the feeders from bird to bird,” he said.
Lehmann suggests that shoppers choose ones that are put together with screws and have easy access to clean out old nesting material.
Even if you’re not interested in feeding the birds, there are ways to attract them to your home. “Keep your space as natural as possible,” Lehmann said. Leaves on the ground provide a habitat for bugs and, seeds and fruit from nearby trees, which are natural sources of food for birds.
Some Backyard Birds to Look For
Northern Cardinal — Cardinalis cardinalis
Fun fact: the male birds, which are bright red with a black mask and crest, feed their reddish brown female partners beak to beak during courtship. The males also feed the first brood alone while the females build their next nest.
Carolina Wren — Thryothorus ludovicianus
These quirky little birds are very vocal, with males singing up to 40 different types of songs and the female sometimes joining in for duets. They often nest in unusual places such as mailboxes and are year-round residents of Georgia.
White Breasted Nuthatch — Sitta Carolinensis
The nuthatch is a speedy flyer and known for hopping vertically down trees thanks to an extra-long hind toe, which allows it to more easily spot food on the ground. The name originates from a Middle English term referring to the bird’s habit of wedging seeds into cavities of trees and breaking them open with its beak.
Eastern Bluebird — Sialia sialis
These friendly songbirds prefer to nest in open habitats like fields and pastures, and the young of the first brood help to raise the second brood. They rely heavily on man-made birdhouses and can be seen perching on low branches or wires and scanning the ground for prey.
Mourning Dove — Zenaida macroura
The greyish brown, medium-size bird is known and named for its mournful cooing call and prefers to forage for food on the ground, bobbing its head as it walks. When in flight, the wind rushes through its wing feathers which causes a distinct whistling sound.
Broad-winged Hawk — Buteo platypterus
These birds of prey are rather stocky and are common in eastern woodlands in the summer. Typically, they don’t stray far from the edges of the woods, swooping down to capture small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds. In the fall, thousands of these hawks migrate south and create a visual spectacle as they swarm together above ridgelines and coastlines.
Area Events & Contacts for Bird-Lovers
This year’s Atlanta Bird Fest, hosted by the Atlanta Audubon Society, will take place from April 14 through May 20, and will feature field trips, paddleboard tours, workshops, art shows and volunteer days.
This past February, bird lovers around the world participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a tradition that brings together birders from around the world. Every year, over the course of four days, birdwatchers contribute photographs and report sightings to compile a comprehensive snapshot of bird species populations and their distribution. For 2018, more than 170,000 contributors sighted upwards of 27 million birds of 6,219 species. If you’d like to participate in next year’s bird count, you can learn more and register at birdcount.org.
To learn more about backyard birds and how to care for them, visit Wild Birds Unlimited at locations that include Vinings, Atlanta in Chastain Square, Decatur and Marietta.