As the days grow longer, the mornings grow louder! The "dawn chorus" carried out each morning by our various songbirds is their way of claiming territories for foraging and nesting. Only the most fit can both hold onto their territories as well as spend all of that time boasting about it to the neighbors. You're happy to see an increase in variety and numbers as you continue to add native plants and create your own ecological oasis within your yard, but you're curious if you could possibly do more. Here are few habitat supplements you can consider which can have added benefits for our feathered friends while simultaneously reducing waste at home.
Late Winter and early Spring is one of the most difficult times for our songbirds. Food is at a minimum throughout the land just as the breeding season is firing up and squabbles over territory are at an all time high. This all requires a lot of energy which isn't always so easily fueled during this juncture of the year. Luckily you can provide some additional sustenance without having to purchase anything more than what you already have in your kitchen. Many might be familiar with Suet, or rendered beef fat, which is a favorite of many songbirds, especially through the winter. Suet simulates a natural resource that is often absent from urban and suburban areas - large animal carrion. In Nature, Winter can be cruel and many animals don't survive. But where there is death there is also life and scavengers as small as flies and as large as Bears will utilize these casualties of the season for their own survival.
While you could easily make or buy suet, I will instead focus on recycling your own kitchen waste instead. While frying up a pan of bacon, or searing (unseasoned) meat, fat is often rendered out during the cooking process. Since it is not safe to pour grease like this down the drain, it often goes into a container or is absorbed by paper towels and tossed. Instead, you can simply add rolled oats to a grease laden pan, again making sure their is no seasoning or added salt - which is not safe for wildlife. The oats will absorb the rendered animal fat, and can be scattered on the ground outside to provide a calorie-rich food source at a time when resources are scarce but energy output is at a high.
Keeping with the theme of breakfast, you can further reduce food waste by utilizing your used eggshells. As female songbirds get ready for the mating season calcium is often extracted from their own bones in order to create their own eggshells. The next time you enjoy some eggs for a meal, save the eggshells, crush them, and offer them to your backyard birds by simply scattering them along the ground. While eggs in America are pasteurized, some people go the extra step of sterilizing the eggshells in boiling water or the microwave before offering to wildlife to prevent the risk of any illness being transferred from domestic chickens to our wild birds. Your local songbirds will consume the shells to replenish their own calcium reserves within their bodies.
Another great option exists for those who share their lives with dogs, cats, or other furry domestic animals. As long as you are not using a topical flea treatment, the next time you brush your dog, cat, horse, or even your goat, you can collect the fur and offer it within a cage-style suet feeder, or decorative dispenser, for our songbirds to utilize for nest building. If you don't have a dispenser you can simply leave it on the ground or stick it in a shrub and the birds will seek it out and utilize it accordingly. Offering animal fiber like this simulates natural relationships that would normally occur in nature but are lacking in an urban environment.
These tips can help reduce kitchen waste, support local wildlife, and help restore relationships in nature that are sometimes lacking in urban and suburban areas. When we remove or limit megafauna from the environment there is a trophic cascade that occurs, with some relationships being more obvious than others. These tips can help you connect a bit more with the natural world around you and bring a little joy as you watch your feathered friends flutter from branch to branch carrying a mouthful of your own dog's fur on their way to creating a nest for the next generation.