Skip to content

Attracting birds

2012 August 27
by Karen Purcell

Providing food in birdfeeders can attract birds even in the middle of the city.

Birds are so beautiful and colorful! They are also exciting to watch — especially from up close. Their behaviors can be fascinating. Did you know that watching birds in your neighborhood can decrease your stress? You can attract birds of many different species to your corner of the world. By attracting birds you’ll also be helping them. It is easy and it can make your life richer!

So how can you attract birds? It’s easy! We’re going to give you lots ideas.

The easiest way to attract birds is by offering them food! You can put up bird feeders or plant bird-friendly plants that will give them seeds and nectar.

Cedar Waxwing enjoying berries from a dogwood. Photo by Bill Heban Rossford.

If you are going to provide food, you’ll want to think about what you want to  attract—and where you want to put your bird feeder. Feeders filled with sunflower seeds attract lots of different kinds of birds – like colorful cardinals, goldfinches, and friendly chickadees.

In cities it is best to use feeders with small perches suited for smaller birds that will not easily spill seed on the ground. Spilled food may attract squirrels  and larger flocks of unwanted birds. Nyger seed feeders work well – but Nyger seed may be expensive.

Baltimore Oriole on an orange. Image by Victor Loewen

Nectar feeders are also great for attracting birds! They attract hummingbirds and sometimes Orioles. All you need to do is mix 3 parts hot water to 1 part sugar (don’t put food coloring in it)—make sure the water has cooled – place it outside and wait for your hummingbirds to arrive!!  You can put some bright potted flowers next to the nectar feeder to help attract the birds!

In spring you can also slice up some oranges and put them on trees, balconies, or railings. You might be lucky enough to attract an oriole!

Brown-eyed Susans are wonderful bird-friendly flowers!

If bird feeders are not permitted in your building. Try a natural bird feeder! A simple potted sunflower or other flower that produces seeds like brown-eyed susans, cosmos, or cone flowers,  placed on your window sill may provide food for birds. Just make sure you let them go to seed! Let the flowers die and produce seed – and then watch the birds enjoy! Sunflowers are fun, colorful, and easy to grow. At least 43 bird species feed on sunflower seeds!

Flowers that produce nectar are also a fun way to attract birds like hummingbirds. Try flowers like nasturtiums or trumpet vines. Birds are also attracted to plants that provide berries and fruit! Make sure you offer them lots of different choices!

American Robins enjoying a birdbath.

Birds also need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing.  You can offer birds water by placing a shallow container filled with water on the ground or slightly off the ground. A good drinking fountain for birds should be like a shallow puddle (nature’s true birdbath). Place some sand in the bottom of the bath and arrange a few branches or stones in the container, so birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet (this is especially important in the winter).

Choose your nestbox carefully!

Finally placing a nest box (sometimes called a birdhouse) in your neighborhood is a great way to attract birds. When you think of birds – you usually think of birds making their nests on a branch of a tree, right? But birds nest in all kinds of places. It depends on the species of birds. Some birds nest on trees, others nest in the ground, some nest in nooks and crannies on cliffs, and some nest inside holes or cavities in trees. Some birds nest in any crazy spot that provides shelter from the weather and predators!

You can help cavity nesting birds like chickadees, wrens,  swallows or even bluebirds  by putting up a nest box. But, be careful! Lots of

This photo of a nest in a urinal is a great example of birds nesting in crazy spots! Thanks to Vincent Obrien for the photo.

nestboxes sold are not great for birds. You want to make sure that it is built of untreated wood and it should have  ventilation holes (so it doesn’t get too hot), sloped roofs (so the rain doesn’t get in the box), rough interior walls (so the young birds can climb out when they are ready to fly), and drainage holes (just in case rain does get in).  Nest boxes are an amazing way to watch birds up close. You’ll see the parents building the nest and later on flying back and forth with food for their young. You’ll hear the chicks peeping loudly for food –and if you are lucky, you might even see them take their first flight!

Whatever you decide to do to help birds in your neighborhood. Start small. Choose one or two things to do…and soon you’ll be hooked.


Thanks to Kaytee Avian Foundation

The Final Bird Club Meeting

2012 August 13
by Seth Inman

Last Wednesday was the final day the Union Educativa Modelo Tomás de Berlanga Bird Club would be gathering under my supervision. In the end, I was never able to get the papier-mâché project off the ground for most of the kids – two students did end up making penguins, but forgot to bring them to this last day to attach body parts and spray the final product with a protective varnish, and my hosts’ son painted a bird I made (looks like a male frigatebird). The photo above is of the Blue-footed Booby I made for my host family.

This is my favorite of all the kids’ artwork partly because the bird’s lower body was formed from accidentally spilled black paint, which was very liquidy. The creative salvaging ended up making a unique shape and simple color scheme; the wavy line of black separating the maxilla and mandible (top and bottom halves) of the beak in particular strikes me for some reason.

Since everyone lost or forgot their balloon creations, I had to quickly come up with an alternative for the last day, and I decided to use the cereal box materials I had planned to utilize in wing and beak construction as canvases for simple painted birds* on cardboard. The results were great, and the kids enjoyed painting existing or imaginary species and receiving certificates of participation from the Celebrate Urban Birds program! Thinking about the results of the Bird Club, I believe the certain lasting contributions are that all the participating students:

  • Can differentiate between male and females in finches, Yellow Warblers, and frigatebirds; and juveniles and adults and Brown Pelicans and frigatebirds
  • Can recognize Cactus Finches
  • Know that Yellow Warblers aren’t one of the Darwin’s finch species

Those students who were older and asked more questions learned about egg-laying periods, behavioral patterns, distribution ranges, and less commonly seen species. In one day with a boy of 9th grade — the only male Club member to attend from that age group — we saw 17 species, which was great for a period of 2 hours walking around the Puerto Ayora and Punta Estrada area (a 60 cent water-taxi ride from the Puerto to Punta Estrada was necessary, and while we were fortunate to see several species in particular, just a little more luck, or perhaps another half hour, would have given us up to at least 22 species, which would have been excellent for a normal pair of hours walking around town).

My hope is that the participant students from Tomás de Berlanga walk away from the Bird Club with a better understanding of the avian life that surrounds them and attracts so many thousands of tourists to the archipelago every year, and I think this is the case for some of the kids, so I am satisfied! I believe many of the students realized how fun it can be to simply observe the birds flitting about their back yards or school grounds and appreciate the unique species that make the Galápagos so special.

*Note: I also really like the birds linked to in “canvas” and “simple painted birds” because the former was considered a failed first attempt by the student but ended up looking like a cool abstract of a bird, and the latter’s simplicity is complemented by the creative use of folding the cardboard, which made the great “movement” effect in the wings.

Birding in Ecuador: Trogons, Toucans, and Tanagers!

2012 August 2
by Seth Inman

Before coming to Galápagos, I spent a day and a half in Mindo, Ecuador, which is one of the most famous birding locations in the world (you can see my last post on the subject). While I was there I saw around forty bird species, mostly ones that I hadn’t seen before! Here is a video of some of the more exciting ones, and of some hummingbirds.

Two Blue-grey Tanagers and a male Lemon-rumped Tanager on the plank; another Blue-grey Tanager and a female Lemon-rumped Tanager on the branch above; White-tailed Jacobin and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird out of focus at the feeder; can you find the Bananaquit?

A bit about the birds in the first video: The Rufous Motmot, which was a juvenile based on its tail (adults of this species, and of many motmots, have two racquet-tipped tail feathers), and the Pale-mandibled Araçari were both perched on the same wood plank with banana or plantain on it at the visitor’s waiting area of the Milpe Cloudforest Reserve, though at different times. An interesting thing about motmots’ racquet tails is that when the adults preen, the barbs on a certain section of the quill, or shaft, of the feathers fall off to create the gap that shapes the racquet!

Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Pale-mandibled Araçari

The Chocó Trogon, endemic to the Chocó region of Ecuador and Colombia, looks fairly similar to the Collared Trogon subspecies found in this part of South America. As an aside, you can read a little about the Collared Trogon in the Neotropical Birds Species Account that I wrote for the species in my ornithology class, and also look up any other bird that I’ve referred to here, as there may be some interesting information about them on this Cornell Lab of Ornithology website!

I’m including some photos of birds and insects we saw below, as well as the list of species seen in the short period that I was in Mindo.

It is also possible that I am missing some species that I saw but don’t remember having seen!

I found two parts of the wing not too far from each other on the trail.

A couple minutes later, we spotted a live one!

Club-winged Manakin

Golden-winged Manakin

Golden Tanager

White-shouldered Tanager

(Probably) Summer Tanager

Blue-grey Tanager

Lemon-rumped Tanager


Orange-bellied Euphonia

(Probably) Lineated Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Guayaquil Woodpecker

Unknown insect, also seen without the long “tail,” which I presume is gender-based

Tropical Kingbird

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Masked Tityra

Bronze-winged Parrot

Red-tailed Parrot

Maroon-tailed Parakeet

Ornate Flycatcher

Foliage Gleaner

Beryl-spangled Tanager

Grey-breasted Wood Wren

Dusty-capped Flycatcher

Green Thorntail

White-whiskered Hermit

Green-crowned Woodnymph

White-tailed Jacobin

I haven’t had a chance to identify this or the other butterfly yet

Green-crowned Brilliant

Brown Violetear

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Chocó Trogon

Collared Trogon

Pale-billed Aracari

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Torrent Tyrannulet

Black Phoebe

Squirrel Cuckoo

White-tipped Dove

Rufous Motmot