I vividly recall the first tree I planted on my 70 acres near Brainerd, Minn., even though that was two decades ago.

It was late summer and a local nursery was selling leftover trees for 10 bucks each. The trees were picked over; the remnants were sorry-looking at best. They conjured up mental images of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I sorted through what remained and picked out a mountain ash because it held a single small clump of orange fruit.

I brought the tree home and immediately planted it with care. A few days later, a September cold front blew in, driving insects into hiding. From my living room window, I watched in awe as a family of colorful eastern bluebirds ate the fruit from “my” mountain ash. I was hooked.

You don’t have to own acreage to successfully lure wildlife with your plantings, nor do you need to live in the country. Wildlife will respond to your habitat improvement efforts even if you reside in the heart of a metropolitan area. Now is a good time to plan your bird-friendly back-yard improvement project and order your plants.

Every spring I plant a variety of trees and shrubs, each with a purpose. My goal is to provide food, shelter from the bitter winter weather, and nesting cover.

For now, though, it’s a good time to look at a selection of bird feeders that can attract a colorful array of our feathered friends. To draw the greatest variety of birds, you’ll want to present them with several food options. A well-stocked back yard feeding station should include sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, millet and suet.

Suet can be placed in a wire basket, sunflower seeds in a standard gravity feeder, thistle in a tube feeder, and corn and other feed in a tray-like feeder placed on the ground for sparrows and other ground-feeding birds.

Much can be learned about the natural world by watching birds at back-yard feeders.

Best of all, it can be done from the warmth of your home on a cold winter’s day.


Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.