To begin, in case you missed these, here are the links to Parts One and Two. (They will open in new pages.)
More than half of all the bird species in the world belong to the order Passeriformes, also called passerines or perching birds. They are the largest order of birds, numbering some 5,700 species and the dominant avian group on Earth today. They have four toes, three directed forward and one backward. They vary in size from small to medium or 3-46 inches in overall length and include all the songbirds. Passerines have evolved a great diversity of feeding adaptations and for these different food habits, various structural specializations have developed, especially in the bill and feet.
You can read more about passerines here: Passeriform
And here: What birds are passerines and why
Passerines need perches to forage from, to rest on, to build their nests on and to feed their young. They also are birds that are likely to come to water features. So, it helps to think like a bird in order to attract the most perching birds. We must look at the world from their point of view and give them what they need most -
At first glance, one might think that our Bubbler area is a bit messy with all those branches. If that's what you were thinking, well, you win the prize. It is intentional. It looks that way because birds LIKE it a bit messy! I have highlighted some of the most favored 'magic' branches on which small birds like to land. Most of these are sturdy enough for even larger birds like Blue Jays and American Crows. A sturdy branch, not a soft, mushy one is the best choice for a perch. Decaying branches are great for scattering into leaf litter so birds can eat any insects within them. These branches will eventually break down and enrich the soil. For a perch to support birds, it's just best to choose stronger branches that are stable.
Notice the branches laying on the large Bubbler rock. They are there for birds like this Black-throated Green Warbler. See how his front 3 toes and 1 back toe easily straddle the branch? This bird is comfortable clinging to it. After the warbler checked me out to be sure it was safe, it went to the Bubble of water.
Pretty soon, friends came in to join the bird for the party - two more Black-throated Green and five Tennessee Warblers! They lined up, watched and could hardly wait to have a turn.
Just to the right and above the two birds in that photo is the grapevine branch. A lot of birds land on it to look at the water from there and this is what they see.
They might pop in on the grapevine branch after feeding in the hydrangeas, like this female Black-throated Blue Warbler did last fall.
Now, behind that grapevine there used to be a more open area and the birds would stage from a viburnum a few feet away. Last fall, my friend, Wally George, brought me a gift of a small cedar tree that he had cut to be used for additional perches. Wally has had great luck with a cedar perching tree attracting birds to his own bubbler! Well, this one for me has become a perfect 'set of stair-steps' from the viburnum! I put it in a pot with gravel to support it and tried it in a few places to see how it would best work into the area.
Cedar is fairly rot-resistant. The next step was to mix up a small batch of cement with sand and gravel to secure the cedar. I emptied the pot and we lined it with a plastic bag, using the pot as a form. We positioned the cedar tree in the bag and then used a trowel to put the cement mixture around it and let it set up. After a couple days, I pulled out the cemented tree, dug a hole where the pot had stood and set the cedar tree into the ground. It still can be lifted and moved, but at least it now has a cement base to stabilize it and should last quite a while in the ground.
Many birds have used "Wally's Cedar" or the "WC". To name a few, here are images of a Carolina Chickadee and a Blue Jay which are local suspects and a Chestnut-sided Warbler that came through last fall. Gee, thanks, Wally!
Just behind the large Bubbler rock and next to the Basin is the small White Oak with Virginia Creeper climbing up its trunk. Birds like this White-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creeper use it to approach the Bubbler after finding a meal of insect larvae in the vine.
From the tree, they move to another perch or the Bubbler rock to get a drink and help that tasty morsel go down the hatch!
There are many vertical living tree trunks for birds like these passerines and woodpeckers to use in the woodland area around the Bubbler. Together with the horizontal branches of living shrubs and selected additional perches, there are many places for birds to cling, forage for food and find their way to the water.
There are lots of ways for birds to access the Basin area as well. The small Blackhaw Viburnum to the left of the Basin is probably where I have photographed most of the warbler species that work their way down through the canopy. They can stay partially hidden in the shrub until they feel safe that there are no predators around. Then, they can move closer to the water to check the depth and drink or bathe.
These next three warblers are all in the small viburnum. The more common Yellow-rumped Warbler is often seen here in winter and in migration before it heads to Canada to breed. What a looker!
Only once have I seen a beautiful Cerulean Warbler here. This bird is on the Watch List - its population is in decline due to severe habitat loss.
The Golden-winged Warbler is also in this high-risk of extinction category and there are efforts underway to increase its habitat areas for survival. I have been very fortunate to see these birds a bit more regularly.
Indigo Buntings and others use the perch in the Basin itself to get closer to the water.
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak thought about bathing for a long time, resting near the water while it sat on the branch, nearly hypnotized by the sound of the water. I have seen this behavior often in birds that arrive in the morning after having flown all night to find our peaceful setting.
Now is the time to get ready for our Missouri spring migrants. I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to add more native plants and magic branches near your water features so that you may welcome more birds! It may seem obvious to most of you, but I think this bears repeating:
"If you build it, they will come!"