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Birds blow whistles on garden pests. Safe bug killers

`WITH the kiss of the sun for pardon, and the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.'' This anonymous little verse always comes to mind with the ``cheer-up, cheer-up'' of spring robins.

But birds are more than cheerful harbingers of spring and bearers of mirthful tunes. They are truly guardians of our gardens.

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`Silent Spring' called alert

Rachel Carson's classic ``Silent Spring'' - now being published in its 25th anniversary edition - jarred people into awareness of the dangers of DDT and other potent pesticides.

She documented the effects of DDT on wildlife, as well as on people. Outright kills of birds and mammals were more easily detected than the subtle damage done as the pesticide moved up the food chain to humans.

Surviving birds became sterile, or their eggs contained incomplete embryos. Areas where the poison was used were devoid of songbirds for years. Although birdkills are still occurring, they are much less frequent, and public reaction to them is swift.

The resulting shock waves alerted the public to what ecologists already knew: Without restraint, our world would soon be devoid of birdsong, the chorus of spring peepers, or human ears to hear them - and Earth would be forever filled with silent seasons.

A few years ago we offered a folder on ways to attract birds to yards and gardens. The offer brought in more than 6,000 requests for this excellent guide. It was prepared by the Garden Club of America and entitled ``Berried Treasure for Your Birds.'' Unfortunately, it's no longer available, but here are pointers gleaned from the article, and some from our own experience.

No matter what size yard or garden you have, you can ``hire'' birds to police the area.

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All you have to provide is shelter, food, and water - a small price to pay for such gallant security guards.

Birds are safe bug killers. Insects don't develop a resistance to them. Birds leave no pollution, just joy while they sing lullabies and devour millions of troublesome insects.

When someone says you ``eat like a bird'' they aren't paying you a compliment.

According the Garden Club of America, a brown thrasher can eat as many as 6,800 insects per day. A pair of redstarts feed their young between 4 a.m. and 8 p.m., approximately every five minutes during nesting season, for a minimum of 1,200 bugs daily.

A wren can feed 500 insects to its young every summer afternoon. This should give some sense of the value of the flying cleanup crew in your own yard.

Feeding stations attract

Use two or three stations with covered shelves to shield from hawks. To foil cats and squirrels, use collars on the supporting wood poles or use metal poles to support the stations. Keep feeding stations six to eight feet from trees. Roosting trees or shrubs, however, should be near enough for easy flight to and fro.

Use a good mixture of seeds. Cheap mixes usually have lots of coarse, red millet ignored by birds. We use both striped sunflowers and smaller black sunflowers. Suet can be hung in sheltered spots on tree branches.

Plastic feeders of all shapes and sizes are excellent for hanging on trees or under eaves, out of reach of birds of prey.

Birdbaths entice more species to your property. They can be the standard type on a pedestal, or more elaborate ones. We have a fiberglass tub sunk into the ground, with a standard birdbath set in the center.

A simple fountain motor keeps a steady stream of water running into the ceramic bath and overflowing back into the tub. It is shaded by a magnolia tree. In summer, birds stand in line to take their baths.

Many species nest in birdhouses.

Robins will nest on a platform attached to a building. Bluebirds can be protected from starlings by limiting the opening in the birdhouse to 1 inches in diameter.

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