Backyard bird watching is a fairly simple exercise. Provide enough food, water and cover, and birds will come flocking. Playing favorites, though, calls for using the right kinds of incentives.
Hummingbirds, for example, will linger longer if you offer nesting material to help cushion their pea-size eggs. "Goldfinches and titmice go for it, too. Lots of birds,” said Mel Toellner, whose company, Songbird Essentials in Mexico, Mo., makes a fluff-holding enclosure called the Hummer Helper. Instead of hunting for filler — primarily spider webs or moss — hummingbirds can pick up what they need from this fiber-filled device. "It’s the nesting equivalent of stopping at a McDonald’s,” Toellner said. "Hummingbirds will return to the same place year after year when they find a situation they like. These units help build high-density populations.” Hummingbirds fledge as many as three broods per season, so Toellner suggests placing nest-building kits near feeders. The containers are priced about $12; refills of the natural, oil-rich cotton cost about $6. Another way to attract hummingbirds is to signal that food is available. "Hummingbirds react favorably to the color red, so wrap some bright red ribbons around trees or poles where scouts can see them” during spring migration, Toellner said. Hummingbirds survive chiefly on a liquid diet, preferably high-energy syrup from flowers or feeders. Nectars can be color-free, but the foraging is made easier if feeders are red. Mourning doves, cardinals, blue jays, towhees and juncos are among the many bird species that prefer feeding from the ground or from platform feeders. "Spread a little cracked corn or millet on the ground,” said Elaine Cole, president of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.