As the snow thaws out, and trees begin to blossom, birds and other wildlife will be returning to the Great Lakes region this spring. Bears leaving their hibernation dens will be searching for their first meal of the year. It’s important to keep in mind that bird feeders may accidentally attract bears and other wildlife, particularly in regions including northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula where the black bear is prevalent. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to make your space bird and bear friendly.
Consider putting away bird feeders and incorporating native plants into your yards and gardens this spring – especially in bear territory. Bird feeders provide a convenient, but dangerous, meal for bears, allowing bears to eat from human-provided food sources such as feeders, garbage, or outdoor pet foods, teaches them bad behavior which often leads to removal. By planting native, we can provide birds with adequate food, water, and shelter to get them through the next leg of their remarkable journeys, without attracting bears.
Springtime is a remarkable but dangerous time for birds, including long-distance migrants like the Scarlet Tanager whose nearly 3,000-mile journey from South America to the Great Lakes is filled with obstacles including violent storms, non-stop flights over open water, predators, lack of food, and glass buildings. Our front and backyards, parkways, balconies, and porches can all become refuges for migrating birds.
It’s important to understand the different food sources that birds rely on. Native plants provide berries and fruits, nectar, and nuts and seeds. The fourth food source is an unlikely one: insects, specifically caterpillars! Caterpillars are supported best by trees and shrubs, like oak, willow, and Blackhaw Viburnam (Viburnum prunifolium). Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is an early spring/summer bloom that will bring nectar and a pop of color to your space, while supporting Michigan’s smallest migrant, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Planting native species for the first time can be a daunting task. "What should you plant?" "Where should you plant it?" "Where should you buy them?" Audubon’s Plants for Birds database, provides information about what important food sources each native plant provides, what birds they attract, and additional answers to all of these questions, and resources to help first-time amateurs and green thumbs alike. Enter in your zip code to get a list of native plants that are appropriate to your area, along with information on local native plant nurseries you can buy from, and a list of Audubon chapters who can help.
Now that you’ve got a handle on the four major food groups for birds, you can start planting!
- Rachel Leightner is the Wildlife Outreach Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. She cohosts DNR’s WildTalk Podcast, a show about Michigan’s wildlife.
ABOUT MI BIRDS
MI Birds is a public outreach and engagement program created by Audubon Great Lakes and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which aims to increase all Michiganders' engagement in the understanding, care, and stewardship of public lands that are important for birds and local communities.