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Our Feathered Friends in Lakes Country
From the tiny hummingbird to the majestic eagle, the Brained Lakes Country area is a haven for birds and bird watchers.

Bird watching, feeding and attracting birds in Brainerd Lakes Country

woodpeckersThere is nothing more exhilarating than seeing that pileated woodpecker swoop to your feeder, or the tractor sound of a hummingbird's wings as it hovers over your flower bed. The songs of a cardinal bring out special emotions, and what about the many imitations put out by those rascals, the catbirds? One of the most prolific and fastest growing hobbies in Brainerd Lakes Country is bird watching. Getting birds to your yard can be easy if you know the right things to do to attract them/

Experience has shown that there are three components that attract the feathered creatures to your backyard: habitat enhancements, water and food.

Our setting is a home nestled in an open one-quarter acre, which is surrounded by acres of mature jack pines, birch and aspen. The overstory is high and dense and originally there was no low growing brush beneath.

Many birds are attracted to sites that provide them with brush and cover. To compensate for the lack of cover, we immediately began planting shrubs along the forest woodline. We planted numerous elderberry bushes since they grow rapidly and provide wonderful fruit for catbirds, robins and others. They also provide cover for the white throated sparrows and juncos as these birds migrate through the area.

Clavey's dwarf honeysuckle was also planted to provide cover and it was discovered that their early non-descript yellow blooms in the spring provide nectar for early arriving hummingbirds. Other shrubs that provide cover and food for birds include: highbush cranberries, shadblow serviceberries, pagoda dogwoods and flowering crabs. If you have pagoda dogwoods or serviceberries you will no doubt see robins, catbirds and even waxwings fighting over the fruit. Balsam firs are excellent trees to provide all season protection. Remember, you need both food and areas that provide shelter and cover as many birds do not like to be in wide open areas and therefore easily exposed to predators.

Thirdly, birds need water and by adding a source you will get more birds to your yard. Our yard hosts a small ornamental pond. A part of this pond includes a trickling waterfall and creek. The splashing water and the noise from the falling water attracts birds. Hummingbirds enjoy the spray generated from the splashing action of the falls and in the spring and early fall the warblers pour in for bathes. Throughout the summer, redstarts, robins, catbirds, cardinals and even woodpeckers enjoy the waterway and pond for bathing and drinking.

A pagoda dogwood and a sumac along the edge of the waterway have branches that overhang and provide a landing pad for birds. Remember, birds need water in all seasons and to attract them you have to provide for their needs. There are very affordable "heated" water dishes available that you can put out for the winter months.

Feed and the type of feeders are also important. To attract the greatest number of birds utilize a variety of feeders in your landscape. In our landscape we have hanging tubes with niger feed for our goldfinches and siskins; groundfeeders for cardinals and juncos; standing feeders for the chickadees, blue jays, both nuthatches; and suet feeders for the downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, as well as the brown creepers. And don't forget to throw some seed on the ground for the sparrows and juncos.

During the late spring, summer and early fall, nectar feeders will attract hummingbirds and orioles. We also have a feeder that is is filled with grape jelly for the orioles. The key is to provide a number of opportunities at various height levels to attract the greatest number and varieties of birds. Remember to clean and sanitize feeders frequently as they can host a large amount of bacteria.

When considering types of feed, remember that different species favor different types of food. Sunflower seeds are a staple, but also mix in safflower seed, millet, cracked corn and peanuts. If you have it, during the summer put out dried fruit and even meal worms. For an added treat put out whole unsalted peanuts and watch the blue jays pretend to bury them.

One of the things we have learned here in the Brainerd Lakes Country is to purchase several good birding books. Warblers can be hard to identify and this will help immensely. Secondly, have a good set of binoculars at hand near your window. Finally, keep a journal with daily entries. Record when the yellow bellied sapsuckers, orioles, hummingbirds and chipping sparrows return and leave. These note will prove valuable in the future.

Most importantly, feed all year and be a good host. The rewards far outweigh the expense and you are the winner.

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