High Country Birding: Attract a variety of Summit County birds to your backyard
Birding in Summit County can be challenging, given the altitude and rough terrain, but you don’t have to be physically fit to enjoy our birds. Many of the county’s 219 species can be attracted to and seen from your own backyard, whether you live in a house, condo or tent. You can improve your odds by adding flowering and fruiting plants, sheltering trees, bird houses and a water feature. Tubular flowers like honeysuckle or scarlet gilia will attract hummingbirds, and a bath or water feature with running water is attractive to all birds. Feeders are a great way to bring birds to your yard, but be careful not to attract bears or other unwanted wildlife at the same time. Even sugar water hummingbird feeders will attract bears, so unless your feeders are hanging from an inaccessible upper level condominium deck, you’ll need to bring them indoors at night if bears are active in your area.
Hummingbird feeders come in all shapes and sizes, and, like fishing lures, many are designed to attract buyers more than hummers. You can skip expensive glass and complicated-looking feeders, and instead focus on cheaper, practical feeders. Unless you are inundated with hummingbirds, your feeders should hold no more than 2 cups of sugar water, or you run the risk of spoilage or algae. If you only have a 4-cup feeder, just fill it half way. Your feeder should have multiple feeding holes, a perching rim and be easy to take apart and clean. Two-cup, easily cleaned clear plastic feeders with eight holes and a perching rim are made by First Nature and sold by Wal-Mart for less than $10. It’s easy and inexpensive to make sugar water to fill these feeders, which is preferable to buying expensive prepared products. And don’t bother adding red food coloring to your mix — it adds nothing of value and may be unsafe for birds. Natural nectar and sap have a sugar to water ratio of 4-to-1, and you should use the same proportion for your homemade product. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 1 cup of cane sugar, stir, re-boil briefly and cool. That’s all there is to it. Fortunately in the cool climate of Summit County we have little trouble keeping our feeders free of algae or bugs, but take a few minutes to thoroughly clean your feeders each time you refill them, making sure that they are well-rinsed afterward. Hang multiple feeders across your open space, at least three feet from your windows. Hummingbirds can be very aggressive to one another, and the more feeders you hang, the more opportunities you give to all. Put your feeders up before the end of April and keep them up through September to ensure you don’t miss any Summit County hummers.
Most seed feeders are designed for sunflower and millet-type seeds or for the smaller thistle seeds. Since both types attract different birds, you will see more variety with one of each. Thistle feeders are available as tubes with small holes, and ‘socks’ that allow pine siskins and finches to hang on and extract seeds. Non-thistle seed feeders attract mountain and black-capped chickadees, sparrows and house finches, among many others.
Suet also works well year-round in the High Country. Buy square suet cages and blocks of ‘no-melt’ suet. Inexpensive suet blocks come in a variety of mixes that can appeal to different birds. You can fasten or hang the cages to a railing, eve or tree limb. Suet will attract red-winged blackbirds, black-billed magpies, ruby-crowned kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees and jays. As September arrives and summer ends, don’t be discouraged when migrants leave and bird numbers drop. Winter brings new birds, like rosy-finches, to the lower elevations and many birds, like nuthatches, chickadees and jays, hang out here year-round. As snow stacks and temperatures plummet, not only are home seed feeders and suet appreciated, they can play an important role in bird survival.
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