backyard wildlife & birds


Backyard Wildlife

If you are interested in enhancing your backyard habitat for wildlife, focus on food, water, and cover.  To attract wildlife, consider adding evergreens; grasses and legumes; plants for butterflies, bees and moths; plants for hummingbirds and orioles; summer fruit, berry and cover plants; winter fruit, seed and cover plants; plants that produce nuts and acorns; nest boxes, dead trees, fallen trees and perches; brush pies and rock piles; dust and grit; water; and feeders.

Landscape to Provide Food and Cover

  • Plants provide food for insects, which are then eaten by wildlife.  Landscape with a variety of species. The more diverse the vegetation, the more diverse the insect population will be. 
  • Select plants than flower and bear fruit at different times of the year, so food will be available throughout the seasons. For example, blueberries provide fruit in early summer, viburnum fruits in the fall, and American holly fruits persist into the winter.  Winter cover (e.g., evergreens), seed plants (e.g., box elder), meadows, nectar plants (e.g., cardinal flower, jewelweed), vines, brush piles, and dead or decaying trees (also called snags) all provide food or habitat. 
  • Provide multiple layers, from ground level plants, to shrubs, to trees. If you have a field adjoining a forest, encourage a gradual progression of plants from the edge of the field to the forest. If you have forested land, follow management techniques designed to attract wildlife. 
  • Consider planting native species. Remove non-native invasive species such as winged euonymus, Russian olive, multiflora rose, catalpa, tartarian honeysuckle and European honeysuckle. Most of these invasives spread through undigested seeds of bird and mammal droppings, and choke out other plants. 
  • Minimize chemical use.  Butterflies, birds, bees and other wildlife are very vulnerable to pesticides.  If you do use chemicals, always follow the instructions on the label. 

Erect Artificial Nesting Structures

  • Choose a location that birds will find appealing and secure, which is not too close to human activity. Make or buy a bird house specifically designed for the species of bird you want to attract. The size of the hole is critical to prevent the eggs and young from being destroyed by larger birds. Many plans are available online for bluebird, wood duck and other nesting boxes. 
  • A single brown bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour. To attract bats, consider putting up a bat house, on poles or buildings at least 15 feet high that receive six or more hours of sun per day.   

Erect Feeders

  • To attract butterflies, provide that produce nectar, and plants that caterpillars like to eat. Many butterfly-garden plans and plant lists are available. More information about attracting butterflies can be found at the American Museum of Natural History website. 
  • Artificial feeding of songbirds can be beneficial.  However, it is not wise to feed other wildlife, such as deer, raccoons, and waterfowl, as this can create unhealthy, and sometimes dangerous situations for both wildlife and for you.  
  • The species you attract will depend on the location of your lot and the type of feed you use.  Black oil sunflower seed is the most versatile and is popular with many songbirds. Also, it is not preferred by non-native birds such as house sparrows and starlings which compete with native songbirds for nesting cavities. Finches and Pine Siskin are especially attracted to black thistle feed.  Beginning in May, you can attract Baltimore (northern) orioles with orange halves on a platform feeder or nailed to a tree. From May through September, nectar feeders can be used to attract hummingbirds.  Make your own nectar by mixing one-part sugar with four-parts water and boiling the mixture for one to two minutes. Allow it to cool, then fill the feeder and store the extra in the refrigerator for future use.  Clean the feeder with a mixture of ½ vinegar and ½ hot water and refill it with fresh nectar every 2-3 days. Suet can draw birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches during colder months.  
  • The five most useful types of feeders are a ground feeding table, sunflower seed tube, suet feeder, hopper feeder, and a thistle feeder.  If you have one of each, you will attract different kinds of birds. 
  • Sanitation and proper maintenance of feeders is important to prevent disease.  Don't let seed sit, especially when it is wet, and discard any seed that becomes moldy.  Wet bird seed promotes the growth of bacteria that cause potentially fatal bird infections. Feeders should be scrubbed and disinfected with a mixture of one-part chlorine bleach to nine parts water. 
  • A source of gravel and grit in an open platform feeder helps birds grind food in their gizzard.  
  • To aid nesting birds in egg production, place crushed eggshells or oyster shells (available from a farmers feed store) in the feeder. 
  • To deter squirrels, keep the feeder at least six feet away from things squirrels can leap off of, such as overhanging branches and eaves, on isolated poles at least five feet off the ground. Use a baffle on the pole (e.g., a PVC pipe or stovepipe that's 6 inches in diameter and 18 inches long, a special squirrel-deterring dish with a 15-inch diameter, or an inverted cone with at least a 13-inch diameter.) Protect feeders suspended from a horizontal wire by threading old records, compact discs, or plastic soda bottles on the wire on each side. The Absolute II bird feeder is one that is actually almost squirrel proof. 

Provide water sources: Butterflies use mud puddles, and birds prefer birdbaths or shallow ponds. Birdbaths should be no more than 3" deep, with gently sloping sides, and a rough surface to provide good footing. Remember to change the water every few days to keep it fresh.  A bird bath may be placed on the ground or on a pedestal. It should be 15 feet away from shrubs or trees where cats may hide, but provide a perch nearby. Dripping water is very attractive to birds.  A heated birdbath will provide water all through the winter. Any creek, springs or wetlands on your property should be preserved. Natural breeding pools, called vernal pools, are very important.  Vernal pools are usually located in small depressions or swales that collect spring snow melt or another runoff.  They often dry up in the summer, but support amphibians such as spring peepers, wood frog, and spotted and Jefferson salamanders, along with many invertebrates such as insects, snails and tiny clams. Protect them from pollution or major alteration of vegetation immediately surrounding them.  Brush piles and fallen logs provide shelter and concealment from predators.

More Information and References:· Department of Energy & Environment Protection (CT DEEP)·  Bat Conservation International·  Bluebirds ( ·  Butterfly Gardens (CT DEEP)·  CT Audubon·  Gardening with native plants (CT Botanical Society) ·  Hummingbird maps·  Dealing with injured wildlife - what to do, who to contact.·  Landowner Incentive Program - CT (DEEP funding for certain wildlife enhancement projects) ·  Links to Articles on butterfly gardening, attracting birds, backyards for wildlife, etc. ·  National Audubon Society: Audubon at Home: increasing backyard biodiversity, gardening for birds and other wildlife, rethinking your lawn, reducing pesticide use.·  Native Tree and Shrub Availability List for CT with list of nurseries, CT DEEP·  The National Wildlife Federation·  Planting for wildlife: short list of plants preferred by bluebirds and hummingbirds. ·  State Environmental Conservation Police·  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service·   Wetlands, vernal pools, etc., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website ·  Wildlife Habitat Council

References:·  Coverstone, Nancy, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Habitats: A Fact Sheet Series on Managing Lands for Wildlife, Bulletin # 7137. ·  Picone, Peter M., Connecticut DEEP, Bureau of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, Enhancing your Backyard Habitat for Wildlife, 1995.·  USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the National Association of Conservation Districts Wildlife Habitat Council, Backyard Conservation, July 1998.


Eastern Bluebirds

Until fairly recently, Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were uncommon in Connecticut, mainly due to loss of habitat (open space and snags), and competition for nesting sites from introduced species (starlings and house [English] sparrows). However, bluebirds are coming back.  They are fascinating, beautiful birds.  You can help increase their numbers. The keys are: 

Additional Source: 11 Simple Tips to Attract Bluebirds to Your Backyard

Learn to recognize nests and eggs (photos) - also see chart on relative sizes of eggs

  • Bluebird: Neat, cup shaped, woven nest of 100% fine grass or pine needles. Occasionally bits of fur or a few feathers and rootlets. Fairly deep nest cup. Eggs are powder blue, sometimes white. NOTE: Western Bluebirds will routinely add ribbons, cellophane, feathers, thin bark and leaves to their nest. 
  • House Sparrow: Jumble of odds and ends, including coarse grass with seedheads, cloth, white feathers, twigs and sometimes litter. Tall nest, may have tunnel-like entrance. Eggs are cream, white, gray or greenish, with irregular brown speckles.
  • Tree Swallow: Nest of grass lined with feathers. May be messy. Flatter cup than bluebirds. Eggs are pure white.
  • Black-capped Chickadee: Downy nest of moss, fur, and soft plant fibers. Female may cover eggs with moss when leaving the box.  White eggs with brown speckles.
  • Tufted Titmouse: Downy nest of moss, fur, and soft plant fibers. May have many earwigs living in it. White eggs with rose/mauve speckles. 
  • House Wren: Messy nest of twigs, occasionally lined with fine fibers or feathers. Males may build unlined eggless "dummy nests" in nearby boxes to reduce competition. Tiny glossy white eggs, sometimes tinted with pink/buff, with lots of fine pinkish brown/reddish brown/brown specks that sometimes form a ring on the larger end of the egg.

Learn more about your favorite birds at NestWatch: Where Birds Come to Life


Birds in the Quiet Corner

Click here for complete checklist

SIENTIFIC NAME Acadian Flycatcher Empidonax virescens American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosusAmerican Black Duck Anas rubripesAmerican Coot Fulica americanaAmerican Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis American Kestrel Falco sparveriusAmerican Redstart Setophaga ruticilla American Robin Turdus migratorius Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula Bank Swallow Riparia riparia Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmusBlackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus Black-th. Green Warbler Dendroica virens Black-thr. Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora pinus Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterusBrown Creeper Certhia americana Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater Canada Goose Branta canadensisCanada Warbler Wilsonia canadensis Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum Cerulean Warbler Dendroica cerulea Chestnut-sided Warbler Dendroica pensylvanica Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperiiDark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe Eastern Screech-Owl Otus asioEastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Wood-Pewee Contopus virens European Starling Sturnus vulgaris Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis Great Blue Heron Ardea herodiasGreat Horned Owl Bubo virginianusGreen Heron Butorides virescensGrt. Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus Hooded Warbler Wilsonia citrina Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus House Sparrow Passer domesticus House Wren Troglodytes aedon Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea Killdeer Charadrius vociferusLeast Flycatcher Empidonax minimus Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla Mallard Anas platyrhynchosMarsh Wren Cistothorus palustris Mourning Dove Zenaida macrouraNorthern Bobwhite Colinus virginianusNorthern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus Pine Warbler Dendroica pinus Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensisRed-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicusRock Dove Columba liviaRose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus Ruby-thr. Hummingbird Archilochus colubris Ruffed Grouse Bonasa umbellusScarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatusSong Sparrow Melospiza melodia Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor Turkey Vulture Cathartes auraVeery Catharus fuscescens Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Whip-poor-will Camprimulgus vociferusWhite-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavoWillow/Alder Flycatcher Empidonax spp. Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Wood Duck Aix sponsaWood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorus Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusYellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons  (pictured above).

Additional Source: World Birds