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Beneficial Birds to Encourage Near the Farm

August 23, 2014

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  • Mountain bluebirds often exclude western or eastern varieties from their territory where it overlaps
  • Birds can help a homestead with pest control.
  • Watch small livestock, pets and poultry with some types of owls and hawks.

Working with wildlife often is a good choice. Wild birds are often seen as carriers of disease (sparrows, blackbirds) and pests that eat grain for livestock. However, attracting some wild birds might be a wise thing for a farm or country home.

1. Purple Martins – A popular neighbor in many back yard colony houses the purple martin is a large blue-black swallow with pointy wings, about 7-8 inches in size. Hallowed out gourds were hung for these birds even before Europeans came to North America, and western varieties still use natural cavities while the Eastern variety will make use of special birdhouses. Several will nest together and they eat and drink in flight. Water from skimming a pond and – valued for catching flying insects.

2. Bluebirds – Eastern bluebirds are 6-8 inches with distinct blue, white and reddish coloring. Heavy use of bluebird boxes have helped the bluebird re-establish populations – and they still need help (like some of the other small birds) with competition from house sparrows and starlings. Insects and small fruits make up the diet. The Western bluebird is declining in Arizona and California – with open forests their preferred habitat unlike the open one enjoyed by the Eastern variety. There is also a mountain bluebird, which pushes out either of the other varieties where habitats overlap.

3. Red Tailed Hawks – Ranging throughout North America this bird has a varied diet and habitat. Rabbits and rodents make up a large portion of the diet – if you’re raising free range rabbits they’re a hazard but for those with hay fields or grain storage – their use of mice and rats (among others) for food means there are fewer that you’ll be feeding in the winter. They’ll also take snakes or lizards if the opportunity presents and I’ve seen they fly off with large snakes several feet long. Their scream for territory is unmistakable. Watching a hawk flying is amazing – the speed at which they can dive and the precision at grabbing prey is a thing to witness. They are considered an aggressive bird and a pair is very possessive about their area, tolerating no intrusion from other hawks. Between 1-3 eggs are laid and in 28-32 days hatching takes place. A large bird with a distinct red tail they are 18-26 inches with a wingspan of 45-52 inches. The females are slightly larger, and they can often be found in the rural areas perched on utility poles or fence posts.

4. Long eared owls need open areas near wooded areas. They can hunt in darkness and often are seldom seen and the hoot of a male can be hear nearly 3/4 mile away. A medium sized mostly brown owl with orange facial disk and white X between the eyes they are typically 14-16 inches with a wingspan of 35-39 inches. Declining habitat threatens the birds in some states. The normal diet consists of small mammals, with an occasional bird. They’ll often use crow or magpie nests, hatching 2-10 white downey helpless babies.

5. Barn swallows are a pest to some, often putting nests on the overhang or just inside barns and sheds. These birds are 6-7 inches in size and slender with a long forked tail. They are distinctly deep blue with a distinctive red patch and dark bills. They do take advantage of barns – but are also voracious eaters of flying insects, which they catch in flight near the ground. Watching their airborn acrobatics is entertaining and because of their insect eating appetites they are encouraged as ‘neighbors’ on many farms.

6. Barn owls are not uncommon but in some states are threatened due to habitat. A medium sized owl with white underside (females speckled) and a white heart shaped face with no ear tufts they are 13-16 inches with a 39-49 inch wingspan. Open areas, farmland, deserts, marshes and grasslands form a food source and habitat for the small mammals they eat, hunting mostly at night. Their nests are typically in hollow trees, buildings and nest boxes and usually 3-9 eggs will be laid.

7. American Goldfinch – these brightly colored 4-5 inch birds are distinctive in having two molts – the breeding birds look different than the “off season”. Attracted easily to feeders as well as to weedy areas where they especially love seeds and thistle, as well as roadsides, open areas and near orchards and gardens. They eat some insects but primarily seek seeds for their diet.

8. Northern Quail – This species is declining in population, which is a shame as they’re a distinctive bird that were once very common in farms and grasslands. They commonly will run on the ground and often a covey (or group) will fly suddenly from a brushy area. Some areas is hunted, and some states will allow, with a permit, raising them to turn loose onto personal property.

9. Ring necked pheasant – widespread in agriculture areas, especially cultivated areas surrounded with grassy ditches, hedges, woods and brush, the pheasant consumes seeds, grains, grasses, leaves, wild fruits and nuts and insects. Distinctive in appearance with the females somewhat drab and the males sporting a long tail, white ring on the neck, green head with red around the eyes. Like the quail, changes in farming practices and eliminating nesting/feeding areas are hard on populations. Pheasants Forever is one group dedicated to conserving these birds. Typically 20-28 inches in size they’ll look somewhat like a chicken except that the long tail is heald upright with long, rounded wings when in flight. Hearing the males and their distinctive call is a favorite memory – and these birds are in need of conservation. They are also game birds, so permits are needed in many areas to raise them.

These birds each are valuable in many ways. Changes in agriculture have eliminated fencerows and other assets needed for some of these species. A return to conservation practices and helping these birds survive and thrive is good for everyone. Many songbirds eat weed seeds and insects, and hawks and owls keep rodent populations in check.

Did you know…

Pheasants forever is dedicated to the conservation of not only pheasants but quail and other birds.
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