Saturday, January 11, 2014

“For the Birds” Workshop Brings in A Flock

By Carol Kagan

Linda Secrist presents tips to attract birds

“Think of yourself as a bird,” said Master Gardener Linda Secrist, “and if you were flying over your yard, what would you see?”
The “For the Birds” Master Gardener workshop on January 11 hosted 23 participants interested in learning how to attract birds and getting tips on plant selection, bird watching and treats for birds.

“I have a great horned owl that sits on my roof and wakes me every morning,” said Carol Sirbaugh, Fayetteville. But there is a dearth of other birds despite her efforts with bird feeders so she was looking for more ways to attract birds.
Secrist described the four things that birds need to thrive: water, food, shelter and nesting areas. This time of year providing water for birds is a challenge and she presented several options to keep water from icing over in bird baths and ponds.
Bird nesting in a simple clay feeder
“Birds can eat up to three times their body weight every day,” Secrist noted. “So ‘eats like a bird’ really has a different meaning than we use every day.” Since different birds like different food, she listed the seeds and foods, such as suet and fruit, that various birds prefer.

Linda Secrist talks about different seeds and bird foods

Inspired by the book “Cooking for the Birds” by Adele Porter, Secrist displayed interesting food concoctions including belly jelly and pasta al fresco. Joyce Randolph, Hagerstown, MD, was particularly interested in the woodpecker waffles and intended to make some at home.
A variety of foods for birds
Kylie Deaton, Hagerstown, came with her mother and said, “I learned about different foods like the waffles and pasta.” As the 4th grade reporter for her class, she expects to do a report on the workshop for the next newspaper issue.

Many in the workshop raised their hands when asked who had not cleared every perennial in their yard in the fall. Secrist pointed out that this is a good strategy for attracting birds during the winter months.
The best flowers to attract birds are single-petaled varieties like this coneflower.
With some plants already in place, Penny Farrah, Greencastle, said she wanted “to know more about what plants” to add. She had already jotted down coneflowers, a new plant to add.

Selecting native plants and flowers that birds like are important for providing not only food but shelter and nesting sites. Hedgerows and larger shrubs offer cover for birds and trees are the typical nesting site for most birds.  

Carl Robillard, Shippensburg, has three acres he is landscaping. “I want to include bird friendly plants and shrubs so this workshop was interesting about that,” commented Robillard. A Master Gardener suggested the native elderberry shrub as a good choice to consider.
As for birdhouses, Secrist said, “Your bird house should be boring.” Plain, well-constructed shelters with access to clean them out are what birds seek, not the brightly painted and decorated houses.
John Myers (R) and Rebecca & David Irvin(L) at the workshop
In response to an inquiry if bluebirds in this area migrate over winter, John Myers, Marion, PA, mentioned that his “mother had three or four bluebird houses and the bluebirds were around during the winter.” Myers added the bluebirds had “a couple sets of babies every year.”

Both Rebecca Irvin and her dad, David, Chambersburg, already have quite a variety of bird visitors but wanted to find out how to attract others. Rebecca said she learned about a lot of different stuff that was bird food. 
Rebecca was suited up in her soccer gear and heading to an indoor game but she stayed after the workshop to talk about all the different birds they see both at home and when vacationing. She knows she won’t hear the beautiful song of the hermit thrushes in Maine at home in Chambersburg, but expects to see a bigger variety at home now.

Photo credit: Carol Kagan


  1. We have the hermit thrush & brown thrashers here at out home in Fayetteville,we live close to Caledonia in the woods.I am going to try putting out mealworms to see what new birds I can attract,they are very pricey though.I must watch for your next meeting,Phyllis

    1. Hi Phyllis,

      Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you're finding the BLOG interesting. If you are not yet signed up to receive e-mail notices about our upcoming workshops and events, you can send your email address to the Master Gardener offices (

      Carol Kagan