Birding Today: Birds have food preferences

Orange-crowned Warbler

Birds and the appropriate food for them tend to go hand-in-hand. In order to have a suitable habitat, it is always best to grow native, as invasive plants and trees do nothing for nature where they do not naturally grow.

Caterpillars and other appropriate protein for breeding birds provide good growth, and migrants require rich food in order to keep weight on for them to reach their breeding destinations. Birds migrate through Oklahoma because they get what they need here in order to complete their long journey.

Thusly, planting native protein-rich food from our fruit trees will go far, including necessary sweet treats when needed for a good energy boost.

Your potential hotspots will require native mulberry and roughleaf dogwood for energy, as well as green hawthorne, which is rust resistant and most beneficial to pollinators and insects. Several warblers will frequent this secondary or mid- canopy tree, which will not cause warbler neck during one’s viewing pleasure.

A sweet cherry that self-pollinates, like Stella or Lapins, will attract birds and insects, so don’t expect any of your own fruit unless it is covered. A small orchard will attract more birds during spring migration, worth its weight in gold.

A native pine tree patch to include loblolly or any other appropriate stands will attract the Pine Warbler, as well as any winter irruptions like the Pine Siskin or Red Crossbill during difficult northern winters. High canopy trees are also used as wind breaks during inclement weather and will help to keep residences cool in our hot climate by assisting with air conditioning bills.

Also most suitable for Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, as well as Warbling Vireos, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and other normal Oklahoma breeding birds will be native hardwoods like the bur and sawtooth oaks. Not only will nesting birds prefer the roominess and camouflage of the trees, they will also be able to quickly pick up caterpillars and other favored insects and rapidly return to the nest for demanding young.

Even though the bald cypress is best planted near water, it is a wonderful native tree that also attracts many insects that interest birds and provides seeds for them during the winter. It also will not rot, living for centuries.

Native disease-resistant hackberry is an excellent shade tree that attracts many insects for warblers and other migrants, related to the American elm of the east coast. Its edible berries are welcome to both native and migrant birds, actually requiring animals to disperse the seeds. The tree is also excellent for minimizing flooding and keeps erosion in check.

In order to get good trees, use a trusted source, have a proper pH for planting these trees, and remember that lime will lower and sulfur will raise the natural pH of the soil. Mulch helps change clay soil to loam, but never allow it to touch the trunk of a tree, or it will cause rot.

Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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