It was finally spring. I'm playing catch in the backyard with my brother, and that's when I hear it - so small it's almost inaudible. A tiny, yet piercing "Peep! Peep! Peep!" I stop the game and motion for my brother to come over quietly. The sound seems to be coming from a nearby tree. We tiptoe closer to investigate.
The "peeping" gets louder, and we can tell there is more than one creature taking part in this chorus. Our imaginations run wild: Have fairies made a home in our backyard? Have dinosaurs returned and are laying eggs in our trees?
We stop right in front of a full evergreen where the noise seems to be concentrated. I look at my brother. He looks at me; his eyes wide with curiosity and fear. Looks like I'll have to be the brave one. I reach forward, grabbing two clusters of branches and slowly pull them apart. And then I giggle.
Inside this hideaway is not a new species of dinosaur or magical fairies, but a well-constructed palm-sized bundle of twigs and leaves: a nest. And those responsible for the noise are four very naked little baby birds "peeping" greedily for their mother … and food.
This was a childhood discovery that I will never forget. Wonder and life were happening right in front of my 10-year-old eyes. I even remember getting closer to the tree and hearing a louder, more adult peeping behind us. It was momma bird perched on a branch nearby warning us to steer clear of her babies.
Birds add another dimension to the landscape. "It's fulfilling," explains Anand Persad, regional technical advisor and entomologist for Davey. "People look at their plants and their trees and they feel good, and then they feel rewarded if they see a bird or other wildlife. It's a broader part of the aesthetics - truly enjoying your green space."
So how do you draw more of these backyard wonders to your neck of the woods?
Persad has some great advice. First, don't look at lists of bird-loving trees and think, "I'm going to plant this one and this one and this one." You might get a bird or two, but that's not the right way to create a true bird paradise, says Persad, who is also an ornithologist.
"You have to think beyond seeds and berries," he explains. "No one tree will give a bird food and refuge throughout the year. You must create a diverse environment to encourage a wide repertoire of birds, appealing to all of their needs." These needs include food, water and nesting or hiding places so they feel secure from predators.
Food can come in the form of seeds and berries, but also insects. Look for trees, shrubs and landscape plants that provide and attract a variety of these foods.
When it comes to roosting, nesting and hiding, various branch heights are important. "A perfect mix would be a taller tree like a hackberry with a few hawthorns and an oak or sugar maple, and then some pines," Persad says. "Then interspersed in there you need shrubs like viburnum or forsythia or Rose of Sharon. This understory vegetation is great for sparrows, wrens and chickadees to forage in and peek out of."
For those interested in attracting one type of bird, like a bluebird, Persad says the best thing to do is attract birds in general. "Don't try and attract one specific species," he says. "Focus on attracting all types of birds, and the bird on your wish list should be in that mix."
As you renovate your landscape with the goal of attracting more "tweets" this season, remember to look at the whole picture and you'll create a true bird haven.