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Creating an Ideal Backyard Wildlife Habitat

A Northern Cardinal enjoys a backyard water feature

A Northern Cardinal enjoys a backyard water feature

My wife’s and my yard is not manicured in “normal” fashion. No chemicals are used, and little seeding or sodding has been done. It is push-mowed. The wooded third of the property is not managed.

Given this setting, we looked at certifying our yard as a “wildlife habitat” through the National Wildlife Federation. It took just a little money, elbow grease, and a whole lot of reminding ourselves that the certification would have a positive impact. We went to the National Wildlife Federation website and found four requirements for certification: food sources, water sources, cover and breeding spaces.

Flowers and nectar feeder

Flowers and nectar feeder

Food Sources

Although nature provides a bounty, supplementing this food supply makes for many joyous days of wildlife watching. Adding a food source for animals also helps during a hard winter, a difficult migration, or even in times of overall habitat loss. Bird feeders, both ground- and pole-based, are excellent additions to the habitat. Also consider adding gardens of native grasses, fruit-bearing plants and nectar-producing flowers to supplement what forest and grasslands naturally provide.

Water Sources

A water source can be as simple as a birdbath or small fountain. Any relatively shallow basin will work. It is also suggested to add pebbles or stones to vary the water depth.

My wife and I added something grander than first anticipated: a backyard water feature. The combination waterfall and pond provides habitat for fish and frogs, a bathing place for birds, blooming lilies, a drinking water source for any living thing (including the family dog) and a source of sanctuary. Surrounding the water feature with native plants is advised; local nurseries are a wealth of information and assets. The contours of our yard provided a challenge to the pond designer, but working with the landscape minimized the impact. No chemicals are used in maintaining the pond. We add bacteria from time to time to help maintain pond health, but all algae control is done with the use of shade, proper filtration and a little elbow grease.
If mosquitoes are a problem, a small spinning mechanism can be added to keep the water moving. To keep water open in winter, either built-in or separate heating units may be used.

Brush piles provide cover .

Brush piles provide cover .


As beautiful as exposed, lush green lawns are they do not provide cover for birds or other animals. Consider planting native grasses, shrubs and trees. Only remove dead trees if deemed a safety or pest concern; otherwise, consider preserving decaying woody plants for animal habitat. Similarly, consider saving downed branches or twigs in brush piles.

Breeding Spaces

Mature trees provide an excellent breeding area for animals that prefer to be off the ground; and the undisturbed areas below trees give excellent cover to animals that prefer to breed on the ground or below ground. Natural tree cavities afford a good breeding space for cavity-nesters, but if your trees don’t have them you can purchase bird and bat houses of various sizes. These houses also encourage flying creatures (and squirrels) to settle in and breed.


The National Wildlife Federation recognizes our property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat and an Advanced Bird-Friendly Habitat. The latter consists of nine requirements, including: providing year-round open water, installing native plants, removing invasive plants, eliminating insecticides, keeping dead trees, providing brush piles, offering food in feeders, maintaining nest boxes and reducing lawn area. With the guidance of the National Wildlife Federation programs, our much-loved yard is now shared with wildlife and achieves important conservation goals. My wife and I encourage you to create and share habitats for all creatures great and small to enjoy. ν

For more info., visit: Adapted from an article about creating a certified National Wildlife Federation backyard habitat by Mark Newstrom and Michelle Cook.

Mark Newstrom

Mark Newstrom

Article by Guest Columnist MARK NEWSTROM

Reprinted from our May/June 2015 Edition of our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter


Late-nesting Birds

Spring is just the beginning of the nesting season for our backyard birds. Some birds will produce numerous broods over the entire summer season and some birds will wait until mid-summer to start nesting.

Multiple Broods Extend the Nesting Season

For instance, American Robins can produce 3 or 4 broods from May through August. Each brood can take up to a month from laying the eggs to the fledging of the babies. Eastern Bluebirds also can produce 2–3 broods per season, with each brood taking 5–6 weeks. And Northern Cardinals produce 2–3 broods each season, taking 3-4 weeks from laying the eggs until the babies leave the nest.

Goldfinch with thistle down in beak

American Goldfinches are assured of a good source of food and nesting materials by waiting until late summer to nest.

Late-Summer Nesters

American Goldfinches are our latest nesters. They don’t even begin to nest until late June or July, sometimes even into August. Unlike many other species of nesting birds, goldfinches do not feed their babies insects—just seeds. By waiting until later in the season, goldfinches can take advantage of wildflowers in full seed production. They also like to use the seed fluff from milkweed and thistle to build their nests. By waiting until later in the season, they are assured of a good source of food and nesting materials. You can provide nesting materials for goldfinches by hanging a Best Nest Builder fiber bundle, available at any of our All Seasons Wild Bird Stores locations.

You Can Assist Late Nesters

Planting some late-blooming flowers, like goldenrod, aster, and sunflowers will help late-nesting birds. Offering water sources can help when the babies leave the nest. They love to splash around in water.

goldenrod, purple asters, sunflower plant

Late-blooming goldenrod, asters, and sunflowers benefit late-nesting birds.

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK

Video: Get to Know Nyjer® Seed

An American Goldfinch eats Nyjer™ from a feeder

Nyjer® is a highly nutritious seed imported from Africa that is heat-treated to prevent germination. It’s a favorite of goldfinches, redpolls, Pine Siskins and more! Contrary to popular belief, Nyjer is not related to thistle.

Learn more about Nyjer in the video below!

Feed Backyard Birds; Entertain Your Cats!

Cat watching birdsMost cats love watching small animals, especially when it comes to birds.

Setting up a window bird feeders for your indoor cats will provide hours of entertainment for them. Stalking their prey through a window helps them become more active during the day and hopefully less active at night. Your cats can suffer from boredom just like we do. Set up easy viewing for your cats by creating a comfortable place where they can watch the feeders. Make sure to secure your window and window screens so that your cat is safe and can’t fall out.

You may even get to hear the cats do some “chirping” or chattering of their own when watching the birds.


Feed hummingbirds out of your hand!

We’re so excited about this clever new product! Nectar Dots allow you to feed hummingbirds out of your hand. Simply sit or stand still with the nectar dot in your hand near an existing nectar feeder where hummingbirds frequent (it’s helpful to wear sunglasses while you do so!). Take a look a the video for more details!

Pick up your own Nectar Dot at any of our 5 local All Seasons Wild Bird Store locations!

In Depth: Baltimore Orioles

This article is from our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter Archives: May/June 2011

Male and Female Baltimore Orioles

Male and Female Baltimore Orioles

By White Bear Lake Manager Bob Ellis

One of the most striking songbirds to visit backyards is the oriole. The vivid orange and black coloring of a male Baltimore oriole is unmistakable and dramatic. While both sexes display a white wing bar, the female’s palette is more subdued, with a dull yellow body and grayish-brown wings. Young orioles appear similar to females in color. Juvenile males molt into their adult orange and black while wintering in Central America. You may hear orioles before you see them: the flute-like call of the Baltimore oriole is clear and loud.

Oriole nesting and habitat

Baltimore orioles make their summer home in broadleaf woodlands and forest edges over all of Minnesota—in fact, over most of the eastern United States. A Baltimore oriole’s nest is quite distinctive; the female weaves a pouch from long strands of plant material on a high branch, very often in a cottonwood tree, here in Minnesota. She then lines it with grass, feathers or even animal fur. Orioles will utilize soft nesting material such as yarn and cotton if offered.

Attracting orioles

Orioles eat insects and fruit and can be attracted to feeders that offer nectar, mealworms, grape jelly, or fruit—especially oranges. They’re sometimes spotted feeding from hummingbird feeders if they can manage a grip, but prefer oriole-specific nectar feeders that feature larger ports and roomier perches.

Grape jelly or orange halves are good offerings during spring and fall migration. While orioles will continue to visit a jelly feeder throughout the summer, mealworms are attractive to oriole parents; their growing young need the protein. Once the young can fly, the parents will bring them right to the food, which is much easier than the constant ferrying of food the parents do up to this point. Use a dish feeder for jelly or mealworms—or, better yet, both at once—to make a particularly versatile and successful oriole feeder.

Identifying oriole species

You may encounter Orchard orioles in open wooded areas in southern and western Minnesota. Orchard orioles are smaller, have a deep chestnut-red body and sport a black hood and wings. Another oriole species is the western Bullock’s oriole. These birds look similar to Baltimore orioles. In fact, older field guides grouped the two species together with the title of “northern oriole.”

Classifying orioles

Orioles are in a group of birds known as icterids. It may surprise you that this group also includes birds that most backyard birders would rather not see—blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds. Compare the outline of an oriole to a red-winged blackbird. You’re likely to notice the family resemblance.

When to put out hummer and oriole feeders

One of the spring FAQs at the Minnetonka store is “When should I put out the hummingbird and oriole feeders?”

Folks look a little surprised when I answer “April 26th.” After backyard bird feeding in the same location for a couple decades and recording the first oriole sighting of the year, orioles typically arrive in my yard two days either side of April 28th. I don’t want to miss them so I put out oriole and hummingbird feeders at the same time on the 26th.

Last year there were storms in the middle part of the USA during migration and birds had to hunker down and ride out the weather. That year orioles arrived closer to Mother’s Day but stayed in my yard two weeks longer than usual, remaining until mid-September.

Most nesting birds evade predators by hopscotching through the yard, returning to the nest site in a circuitous pattern. Hummingbirds are so fast they just fly from food source to nest and are able to feed closer to their nesting site. Hummingbirds prefer to place their nest on a horizontal branch with a bit of an upward or downward slope to provide for water run-off. If the branches of your trees are mostly vertical you may not see as many hummingbirds while they have young in the nest. My yard hosts lots of hummers in May and then again in August into October but I don’t have a lot of action during June and July.

Every backyard is a little different and the bird watching experience is somewhat unique to each location. That’s part of what makes bird watching so interesting!

Our Annual Feeder Swap Sale is Here!

Bring in an old feeder to swap and save 20% off a new feeder!

Plus, Frequent Feeder Members receive at least an ADDITIONAL 10% OFF!

Choose from our vast selection of seed, suet, Nyjer™ and nectar feeders. Our experienced staff will help you select just the right feeders for the birds you want to attract.

Bluebirds Event April 8th at White Bear Store

Bluebird Seminar Poster 2018

Click the image to see the full-size poster.

Let’s Talk Bluebirds!

Join our expert staff along with George Brown, coordinator for the Ramsey County Bluebird Recovery Program, for an in-store event to talk everything BLUEBIRDS! Get information about nest box placement, preventing predation, checking nests/care/cleaning, selecting bluebird feeders, and other of great bluebird facts.

We hope to see you at our White Bear Lake All Seasons Wild Bird Store location for this popular annual event!

Six Tips for Effective Birdhouses


This birdhouse features appropriate materials, sloped roof, easy access for cleaning and a correctly sized, reinforced entry hole.

Providing a healthy home for backyard birds isn’t difficult, but there are some simple tips you should observe in order to make sure your bird’s abode is a safe and attractive place to create a nest.

  1. Pay attention to dimensions. With birdhouses, size does matter. A birdhouse should have the proper dimension; entrance hole size, floor size and entrance height. Different birds require different sizes and using the proper dimensions can help keep unwanted birds out and protect the hatchlings.
  2. Choose appropriate materials. The best birdhouses are made from untreated wood and use galvanized screws, not nails.
  3. Supply ventilation and drainage. Birdhouses should have ventilation and drainage holes to prevent overheating or drowning of baby birds. A sloped roof with a bit of an overhang can also help keep the nest dry. If you have a house without these you can always drill a few holes in the floor for drainage and high up on the sides to provide ventilation.
  4. Provide easy access for cleaning and monitoring. The easiest are birdhouses with one side hinged or that lifts out.
  5. Stay away from any birdhouse with an outside perch. Cavity nesting birds do not need them and outside perches make it easier for predators or unwanted birds to get it.
  6. Keep it neutral. Birds tend to avoid bright, unnatural colors (too obvious to predators) and gravitate to natural, unpainted houses.