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Nature Notes

Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.

Spring Nesting Season

Temperatures are warming and the days are getting longer. For wild birds, the increased daylight prompts physiological changes and signals the beginning of their nesting season.

Resident birds that have been at our feeders all winter may already be finding mates and establishing their territory. Migratory birds are arriving and will join in the territorial battles.  Tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, sparrows, cardinals, bluejays, and bluebirds will often begin breeding in March and April. 

Birds want to be assured of an adequate food supply when their young would be due to hatch. There are several ways that we can help wild birds as they choose their nest sites and begin egg laying.

Birds will often select a nesting site that affords adults easy access to a plentiful supply of insects and seeds. Keeping birdfeeders filled in early spring will insure that birds stay close.  

Many people provide suet to wild birds during the cold winter months. The suet is often a mix of animal fat and seeds and provides birds with needed high energy.  In spring, fill your suet feeders instead with bits of yarn and even dog hair left after a good brushing. Birds will welcome these items to build and line their nests.

Putting out birdhouses provides a safe and dry place for many birds to build their nests. Some birds, like woodpeckers, will prefer cavities they find in trees. Others, like cardinals, will look for a dense shrub in which to build a nest. Many others, like titmice, wrens and chickadees will seek out birdhouses. Hang them in areas where predators are unlikely to gain entrance.

Water is a real attractant to wild birds. Keeping a fresh supply of water in a birdbath or clean saucer will be welcome for drinking and bathing.   Be sure to empty and clean birdbaths weekly.  In summer you may want to do this every four days to deter mosquito populations that can cause West Nile Virus.

Yes, the time has finally arrived. Fill the feeders, put out the birdbath, hang up the birdhouse and put out the WELCOME sign. The nesting birds bring with them a confirmation that winter is over and another spring has begun.