If you stand underneath a large Douglas fir this time of year, it may not be as quiet and still as you’d expect. Chickadees peck at the cones, chittering juncos scavenge fallen seeds, a nuthatch clings upside down on the trunk and regards you curiously, flickers hunt insects in the grooves of the bark, and there is even a lone raven, joining in on the hustle and bustle, although looking a little out-of-place amongst the ‘backyard birds’.

Backyard Birds?

Backyard birds are species that are commonly observed in rural and urban settings, such as sparrows, finches, hummingbirds and woodpeckers. Their diet usually consists of seeds, berries, nectar and insects and they often overwinter on the West Coast.

A Fox sparrow puffs up against the cold. Photo by Justine Aposotolopoulos.

People tend to set out bird feeders for backyard birds from October until March, with the idea of supplementing their natural food sources. On the West Coast however, the mild climate offers a large variety of foraging during this time (hello, Douglas fir!), so if you put out feeders, it is recommended that feeders and water are only put out when there is heavy snowfall or fresh water becomes frozen over. If you are putting out a feeder, you must be committed to replenishing during the cold snap.

Feed Responsibly

Putting out a bird feeder is a major responsibility, and the wellbeing of the birds needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds and actions when engaging in the hobby. There are no regulations that apply to feeding birds on your own property as there are in public places; therefore, you should be disciplined in following standards and best practices for bird health and safety, such as frequently and thoroughly cleaning feeders (every two weeks at minimum), providing high-energy food that is appropriate to the birds in your area (no foreign seed that isn’t a part of their natural diet) and placing feeders strategically to minimize collisions with windows and predation from cats. Make sure to stay aware of the behaviour of the birds you are attracting and take down your feeders if you notice any negative consequences, especially illness or death.

An Anna’s hummingbird at a feeder. Video by Justine Apostolopoulos.

Thomas Dudley, from Wild Birds Unlimited in Victoria, will be expanding upon these guidelines in a free Zoom presentation on December 13th. If you are interested in attending, click here.

Planting Native Plants and Trees

The Conservancy encourages people who are interested in attracting backyard birds to do so by planting native plants and trees. Native species provide seeds, berries, nectar, insects, and habitat. If you have larger trees on your property, leave them standing when safe to do so and enjoy the flurry of bird activity. It’s important to leave these trees even if they are dead, as dead standing trees are important habitat for chickadees, owls and tree swallows, amongst other animals in the forest.

If you’re interested in establishing native trees and shrubs on your property we can help recommend suitable species for your specific site, and help you source them. We grow a selection of about 35 different species from locally collected seeds and cuttings here in our small nursery, and can help connect you to regional growers if we don’t have the plants you need. We offer free consultations to landholders on Mayne, just contact our Biologist Rob Underhill at biologist@mayneconservancy.ca to schedule a visit.

Plants wait patiently at our nursery. Schedule a free Landholder Consultation with Biologist Rob Underhill to find out which plants will work for your property.

The removal of invasives such as Scotch broom or daphne on your property is important, as these can spread and smother native plants that backyard birds utilize. Even invasives such as Himalayan blackberry and sweet briar rose, which provide a food source and habitat for some bird species, should be kept under control. If you have deciduous trees on your property, leave the fallen leaves on the ground throughout the winter, as there are many kinds of insects that hibernate in the leaves.

Another way you can support backyard birds is by putting up nestboxes to help mitigate the loss of nesting habitat from deer browse and property development. Follow the proper nest box standards for different birds, and attract species such as Tree swallows and chickadees to your property!

Tree swallows peek out from a nest box. Photo by Justine Apostolopoulos.

Five Plants to Attract Back Yard Birds

Western trumpet honeysuckle: attracts hummingbirds, juncos, grosbeaks, waxwings, bluebirds, thrushes, flickers, pheasant, grouse

Arbutus trees: attracts cedar waxwings and robins, Rufous hummingbirds, thrushes, and woodpeckers. Arbutus is great nesting site for swallows and also an important food source for pollinators!

Dull Oregon grape: attracts robins, towhees, and other berry-eating birds.

Pacific dogwood: attracts sapsuckers, woodpeckers, bluebirds, tree swallows, vireos, thrushes, evening grosbeaks, sparrows, towhees, grouse, jays and house finches.

Snowberry: attracts grosbeaks, waxwings, robins, thrushes, towhees, and hummingbirds.

The yellow flowers of a Dull Oregon grape.

Wonder about other things you can do to support songbirds and other backyard birds? Here are a few of Dudley’s strategies, from Wild Birds Unlimited’s Save the Songbirds campaign:

Make Windows Safer for Birds: Apply stickers, films, strips or put up window screens.

Drink Bird-Friendly Coffee: Bird-friendly, shade-grown coffees helps preserve healthy forests, which birds depends on for habitat and food sources.

Avoid Pesticides: Pesticide use harms birds through either direct poisoning or bioaccumulation.


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