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Time to start habitat planning 

Creating a backyard home for birds brings joy to all species.

Backyard birds, as most everyone throughout our beautiful Oregon Country knows, are a very special part of our lives.

Aside from the turkey vultures, jays and robins pooping on motor vehicles, and the woodpeckers that try to pound their way into the house, most of the bird population is welcome near our homes.

There are some birds that will come to your house looking for handouts who have not been invited. Pestiferous, European starlings being one, and the equally obnoxious English (house) sparrow being another. You don't want either of those coming around for a handout, but if you set up a feeder, you'll have them whether you like it or not. (And don't start feeding those so-called "wild turkeys," either; you'll rue the day!)

If you want what Nature likes best—and that's species diversity—you will have to work at it to attract birds like the Rufous-sided Towhee pictured above. They require plant cover and a variety of plant species, which requires careful planning.

My wife Sue and I moved into Sun Mountain between Sisters and Bend some 25 years back so our three children could attend Sisters schools. Back then the only birds we saw regularly were house sparrows and robins. Sue was hot to have not only a wider diversity of birds come to our yard, but butterflies as well.

To have a good diversity of birds and butterflies coming and going in your back yard takes planning, work, water and fortitude.

Sue is long on all of the above. She set to installing a soaker-hose water system creating habitat around the house.

She did a lot of searching for the right plants capable of handling Sisters' deep-freeze winter and hot and cold spring. These plants had to yield the blossoms and fruits butterflies and birds couldn't resist. She also had me install a noisy (dripping) water feature to make and keep birds happy.

After selecting the plants you want to use to attract birds and butterflies, go to any of the several nurseries or garden stores and purchase native or approved non-native starter plants and/or seeds.

Talk over your selections with the salesperson to be sure what you're buying will be capable of handling our exciting weather. There are also several bird and gardening publications available as subscriptions, online, or free in the library, that can instruct you bird and butterfly attraction.

It took almost five years before the first rufous-sided towhee found Sue's plantings and moved in with the native green-tailed towhee. About that same time, the scrub jays arrived in Sisters and moved into our area as well. Juncos, house finches, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, and quail were among the first to arrive.

When plant cover was right, I put up our first bird-feeder.

Our native mountain and Western bluebirds were the first to move into the nesting boxes we placed on the side of the woodshed, barn and juniper trees. Of course the house sparrows wanted to take them over first, but I convinced them that was an unhealthy thing to do.

As many of the residents of our area who feed birds know so well, there's something special about sitting down to breakfast and having a dozen evening grosbeaks (and the occasional black-headed grosbeak), towhees and white-crowned sparrows on and under the feeder, scampering beneath the shrubs as they feed on the seeds you supply.

If you hang a thistle feeder you'll be almost struck blind in the morning by the brilliant yellow and black plumage of the male American goldfinch and their kin-folk.

If you want to add even more color and diversity, put up a suet-feeder. Bushtits and a diversity of woodpeckers will go nuts over it. But look out for the starlings, they love suet too, and you'll have to be on your toes to chase them off.

The Western gray squirrel is an expert moocher too, and if allowed to do so, will raise havoc with bird-feeders.

The best way to keep that guy from eating you out of house-and-home is to attach sheet-metal flashing on the feeder pole and place the feeder far enough from trees and shrubs that said squirrel cannot leap on or into the feeder.

If you do have a squirrel problem, borrow a live trap and, after capturing said squirrel, haul it off into the forest at least five miles away and release it. Then, about six months later, you can catch it (and/or its cousins) and repeat the release procedure, but go an extra five miles.

If you cannot find the bird(s) in your bird book, you may, as is necessary or need, call Tom Crabtree or me for help in identifying who is coming to your feeder.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot—the pinion jays; these will suddenly appear out of the blue (literally) and descend on your feeder like the Biblical locusts. They will plunder your feeder and astonish you with their numbers; but the upside is they move around, so just grin and bear it, and have fun sharing in the beauty of Nature's living gems!

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