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Cornell Cooperative Master Gardner: Our Friends The Birds!

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The birds I find most helpful and friendly are as follows….

By M. L. Wells. Master Gardener Volunteer Cornell Cooperative Extension Allegany County

The birds are back and that is a good thing for gardeners. We do not sow and reap all by ourselves. We partner with Mother Nature: the creatures in the soil–the bedrock which creates it–the wind and the rain and most obviously, the birds.

Birdsong tends to fall into two categories: the seed eaters like chickadees which stay all winter and the “bug” eaters who head south in the fall. Like us they all enjoy berries in season! But when feeding their young, all go for the bugs, which amounts to free labor for you and me. So put up some bird houses–better late than never–perches and a water source.

The birds I find most helpful and friendly are as follows: blue birds, phoebes, tree swallows and house wrens. The phoebes known as the farmers’ friend will nest on a ledge on your house. For the six weeks it takes to build a nest, lay the eggs, sit, feed, and fledge the youngsters, there won’t be a flying “bug” around.

The other three will use your “houses.” Be sure the opening is no more than 1 ½ inches wide, 1 3/8 inches is better with no perch by the opening. This helps to keep out starlings and English house sparrows.

This fall clean out old boxes and set out new ones by April first. Best to put up two, 50-feet apart–different species will share and not fight over one!

Come June you will have your own flying squadron patrolling your garden and snapping up the enemy along with some of the good guys–well, nothing is perfect–think friendly fire.

So, remember, if you want robins hopping on your lawn and butterflies flitting through your flowers, go easy on herbicides and insecticides–the carpet bombers at our disposal. Seek balance and harmony–perfect control does not exist in the real world.      

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