Attracting Birds to a Tropical Garden
By Brian Ramsey
Some individuals enjoy bird watching but prefer to do their bird watching in their back yard. Below is some advice on attracting wild birds to your back yard.
Firstly it depends upon having wild birds in the general area where your house is located and then you can attract then to your backyard.
The method used to attract the birds will depend upon what is the diet of the bird. If the bird is a nectar feeder e.g. bananaquits or hummingbirds, then large flowering plants will attract them. Hummingbird bills are perfectly adapted to the various types of flowers that they feed on, so different types of flowers will attract different hummingbirds. Some hummingbirds have especially curved or elongated bills that allow them to feed on special flowers, eg the White-tipped Sicklebill hummingbird whose downward curving bill allows it to draw nectar from heliconias. The Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird has a short and slightly decurved bill that is suited to feeding on the flowers of the ixora shrub. The Blue-tailed Emerald has a short bill that is suited for feeding on the Hibiscus flower. The Copper-rumped Hummingbird has a straight long bill that allows it to feed on medium sized tube shaped flowers such as the allamanda. Hummingbirds have little or no sense of smell, so colour is important to a hummingbird's search process for locating flowers containing nectar. While they will visit any flower that has sufficient nectar they prefer flowers that are red to orange in colour. It is believed that this colour preference is due to the fact that red flowers standout in a green background and so are more easily seen by the hummingbird. It is also believed that because hummingbirds compete with insects for nectar they choose flowers that are less likely to be visited by insects. Most insects do not see well at the red end of the colour spectrum and so may not visit red flowers while hummingbirds see the full visible spectrum.
If space in your yard is very limited, preventing you from having large flowering shrubs, an area to consider is the curb area between your property line and the roadway. You can plant small flowering shrubs such as the miniature ixora, which will then attract birds to your property.
For birds that are fruit eaters, the presence of ripe fruit will attract and so having fruit trees will attract birds. The majority of trees however only fruit once per year for a few months, so the attraction is not year round. If your garden has sufficient space then multiple fruit trees that bear at different times in the year will ensure a continuous bird presence. One tree that bears fruit for a very extended period is guava and so can attract birds for most of the year. Trees are also an attraction to birds because they provide nesting and resting sites. If you have the palm trees that people usually plant in from their houses that will generally attract Palm Tanagers who will feed on the small nuts, use material from the tree for building their nests and may also nest in the tree.
When a large number of flowering shrubs and/or fruit trees is not an option, you can consider purchasing a bird feeder. The type of feeder will also be dependent upon the type of birds in the area and the type of birds that you want to attract. For nectar feeders you use a sugar solution (the feeder usually has directions). You must put the feeder in a location where the birds will see it and you must change the solution regularly (2 -3 days). Red Feeders are good for attracting hummingbirds because they have a preference for red flowers. If you use a feeder it will take a few days for the birds to recognise that it is present in your yard.
Other feed can attract other types of birds. Bare-Eyed Thrushes and Kiskadees are somewhat omnivorous and so you can use rice (not boiled). I have found that they will also be attracted by dog food. Tropical Mockingbirds can also be attracted with rice. In addition, ripe fruit such bananas, mangoes and cherry can be used and will usually attract Blue-Gray Tanagers, Palm Tanagers and Yellow Orioles.
As an alternative to purchasing a feeder you can construct a feeder. For fruits you can build a simple chicken wire basket or bamboo joint to hold the fruit and attach it to the fence. Another low cost feeder can be constructed using a plastic bowl with a narrow edge. To construct this feeder you punch three holes, equidistant around the bowl. Then attach wire strands through each hole with the strands coming together at the top to form either a hook or a loop for suspending the bowl. Three strands are required to provide stability to the bowl particularly when birds alight on the bowl to feed. It is necessary to punch several holes in the base of the bowl to allow any rainwater or liquids to drain out the bowl.
Attracting birds, apart from the visual delight also provides the benefit of controlling the insect population, as many birds are insect feeders.
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