By Sean Conway
This past week the changes in my garden have been nothing short of amazing. Everywhere I turn there is something new to look at. Perennials are bursting out of the ground, shrubs are breaking dormancy, and trees are either greening up, or are already blooming.
The vibrancy of spring is not limited simply to plant life in the garden; bird life too is abundant. It seems each day this week I have noticed new birds that have not been here since last fall. Every morning my garden sounds like a symphony warming up!
I am fortunate to live on a piece of property that is bordered on one side by a stream and on another by a marsh and large freshwater reservoir. Water really attracts bird life, and all the activity makes the garden much more interesting.
To encourage birds into my garden I have set up a variety of different birdhouses around the property. I am always trying something new, and this year I added wood duck boxes down by the stream. With luck, the wood ducks will like the neighborhood as much as I do and take up residence.
Last year I put up nesting boxes for owls, and this spring I am happy to report there are screech owls nesting in one. I put two houses up in different locations to double my chances, and it turns out that was the secret to attracting a nesting pair. It seems that while the female screech owl is sitting on her eggs, the male prefers to roost in the other owl house.
The house is positioned about 12 feet off the ground in a large weeping willow tree. I discovered the female owl sitting on her eggs by accident when I decided to check the box to make sure it was clean and no squirrels had moved in. When I peered inside, there was the somewhat startled female sitting on five round, white eggs. The following day I spotted her mate peering out the opening of the other box, where he spends the day resting and no doubt wondering how he is going to keep five hungry mouths fed!
Both tree swallows and barn swallows returned to my yard this past week. The barn swallows with their long forked tails and beautiful chestnut colored breasts have been zooming in and out of the barn loft. They make a mess of the floor once they start building their mud and feather nests, but their aerial acrobatics as they chase down bugs and each other make up for it.
Tree swallows, unlike their barn dwelling cousins, prefer to nest in birdhouses.
I position their houses on six-foot poles around the open areas of my garden to encourage as many of these amazing little birds as possible to set up house keeping.
Their blue-violet heads and backs and white chests are best appreciated when these speed demons perch on the rooftops of their houses. These curious little birds must like being admired, because they will let people walk within a few feet before flying off. They always garner a great deal of attention from garden visitors.
Tree swallows and barn swallows both eat an amazing number of flying insects, and I am convinced they keep the local mosquito population in check.
If you want to share your garden with some feathered friends, try adding a few birdhouses. You could end up with some very colorful neighbors.
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