Are the only birds visible from your living room the ones on television whacking baseballs with the Louisville Sluggers? Is your back yard devoid of avian visitors? Well, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a program to help you lure those ornithological wonders back and inject some life into your birdless back yard.
DNR's Wild Acres program seeks to educate state residents in creating habitats attractive to wildlife -- especially birds -- in urban or suburban settings. Applicants receive an information package that explains how to attract birds -- from purple martins to woodpeckers -- and even how to build houses for birds, rabbits and bats.
"The purpose of the program is to give people some information onhow to enhance their property for wildlife," said Edith Thompson, anurban wildlife biologist who is in charge of the Wild Acres program for DNR.
Homeowners receive the package and then describe in the enclosed application their efforts to make their property more hospitable to wildlife. Since its inception in January of 1990, almost 1,500applicants in the state have received outdoor signs for their yards,indicating membership in the program.
In addition to back yards, a wide range of other properties are enrolled, including schoolyards,farms, nursing homes, summer camps and community open space.
"It can be a window box or a 25-acre farm," Thompson explained, describing a second-floor balcony that recently became part of the Wild Acres family.
Maintaining a habitat for wildlife doesn't have to be expensive, and can be done on any scale.
"It's very easily done. The majority of the people who are enrolled have spent a lot of money and time," she says, "but it's not necessary to do that. You don't have to spend a whole lot of money."
According to the information packet, some basic things you can do to bring birds and animals to your yard include planting hedgerows and berry-producing shrubs on your property.
Multilevel hedgerows provide a range of habitat for certain birds and rabbits, and will improve energy efficiency if planted on the sides of the house facing prevailing winds. They also help prevent wind erosion and heavy snow cover from drifting. Hedgerows work best when they are wider than 20 feet and trimmed in a pyramid shape, withtall trees in the center and bushy shrubs on either side followed bylow-growing plants.
Wild birds are especially fond of berries. Song birds like robins and the cedar waxwing find pyracantha, chokeberry or common holly irresistible.
"We encourage planting plants thatgive nectar to attract butterflies, and trees with fruit and nuts," said Thompson.
Wild Acre participants Darlene and David Reed of Arnold picked up their application in an Annapolis bird feeder store and have seen the bird traffic in their back yard increase.
"My husband and I like to watch the birds in our yard. (The program) sent us lots of useful information," Darlene Reed said. The Reeds have established habitats for squirrels, rabbits and birds in their yard and sayit isn't inexpensive or too much work.
"It's relaxation for us. We enjoy doing this." she said.
When feeding wild birds, the trick is to choose the right combination of food and feeders to attract thebirds you want to see. Sunflower, thistle, cracked corn, sorghum, white proso millet and other seed types are readily available, but the white proso millet and black oil sunflower seeds are preferred by most birds.
The feeder type also depends on the type of bird. Platform feeders with raised edges for birds to perch are attractive to cardinals, blue jays and sparrows, while woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees will cling to suet hung in an onion bag for a treat.
Fruitssuch as oranges, apples, grapes and fruit cocktails will attract birds you would never see at your bird feeders, including Maryland's state bird, the northern oriole.
Hummingbirds, which come out in the warm months, go wild for nectar in special liquid feeders, but special care must be taken that the water for the sugar solution used in the feeder is boiled well to prevent fungal or bacterial growth.
Thompson does not recommend that Wild Acres homeowners feed animals, although habitat creation is encouraged.
"If you plant something, andthe animals dig it up or something, they are behaving in a normal way," she says, explaining that feeding small mammals leads to behavioral changes that can be dangerous for both the homeowner and the animal. Animals that become dependent on people for food fail to get the proper diet, becoming more susceptible to disease.