How do you get birds to stay in your yard?

Geri Nikolai

Bob Bailey, operator of the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in Rockford, doesn’t get excited when he hears about lots of birds or a shortage in someone’s back yard.

Usually, Bailey said, those swings are cyclical and tend to even themselves out.

In response to a reader’s concern expressed here last week that there are few birds at her feeders this summer, Bailey said he hears that — and the opposite — over and over.

“We’ll have someone say the birds have abandoned them, and the next customer says, 'That’s because they all came to my yard,' ” Bailey said.

The West Nile virus has hit the blue jay population hard, but other bird species are doing fine, Bailey said. In fact, they’ll be better than ever in the next few years, he predicts, because they’re living off the fat of the 17-year cicadas this summer.

“That’s an improved diet, with a result of larger broods, better-fed babies and more birds in the next two to four years," he said.

If you’re not getting the birds you’d like in your yard, Bailey suggests one of the following might be the cause:

Dirty feeders and old seed. Birds don’t like ‘em.

Cheap seed, either because it’s old or diluted with what Bailey calls “garbage, filler” seeds that don’t attract the colorful birds you want.

Wrong feeder. Bailey maintains that a cheap feeder might look fine to you, but you’ll have better luck investing in a feeder made by a company that has taken the time to learn what birds need.

Wrong location. A nesting bird nearby will frighten other birds away.

Predators. Are there owls, hawks or cats in your neighborhood?

Chemicals. If you or your neighbors are using lawn conditioners that contain chemicals to kill insects, you’re killing the birds’ feed. Such products should be banned, Bailey said.

Poison. He hears reports of some people who intentionally poison birds.

Construction. Are they felling trees and building houses nearby? The noise could scare birds away, not to mention the loss of habitat.

Dirty water. Bird baths should be cleaned regularly.

Cicadas. Birds love these insects and are feasting on them now. If your bird count is down, wait and see what happens by mid-July, when most of the 17-year-cicadas will have died.

Trees and shrubs. The more of these you have, the more birds you should have. If you can, set aside a natural area in your yard with low brush cover for birds to hide.

Contact Geri Nikolai at