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There is a close relationship between gardeners and birds: Urban Growth

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When is a gardener not a birder? We can’t think of an answer.

Truth is, gardeners love birds, much as sailors love wind.

A bird studies volunteer leads a group of students at Long Point Observatory, southwest of Hamilton on Lake Eerie.
A bird studies volunteer leads a group of students at Long Point Observatory, southwest of Hamilton on Lake Eerie.  (Bird Studies Canada)

Now is a good time to consider how you can attract more birds to your yard or balcony. Between us, we have 15 bird feeders around our properties and almost 50 years of birding experience. Here’s our crash course on backyard birding:

  • SEED: Many birds love seeds, which is why we put out a variety — to attract the widest possible variety of attractive songbirds. But not all birds are attracted to the same seeds. A guide to help you get the most out of your birdseed:

Black oil sunflower seed is the closest to a universally accepted birdseed. Cardinals and goldfinches love it.

Buckwheat and cracked corn. Mourning doves are attracted to these. Avoiding cracked corn in your birdseed mix will help to minimize the population of grackles and mourning doves at your feeders.

Quality canary seed attracts sparrows. Song sparrows have a stronger preference for it than house sparrows.

A variety of seeds will likewise attract a variety of hungry birds to your yard and garden.
A variety of seeds will likewise attract a variety of hungry birds to your yard and garden.  (www.MarkCullen.com)

Safflower. Very few birds will eat it. But squirrels don’t like it either, which is why is it often sold as “squirrel free.

Black-striped sunflowers seeds are preferred by most songbirds. The smaller the seed, the better.

Thistle is the No. 1 choice for attracting finches. Goldfinch are brownish in colour this time of year but change to brilliant yellow in the spring.

Unsalted, shelled peanuts are candy for most woodpeckers and blue jays.

  • TECHNIQUES: A few tricks we’ve discovered:
Suet feeders will draw birds like this pileated woodpecker as well as grackles that won't bother with upside-down feeders.
Suet feeders will draw birds like this pileated woodpecker as well as grackles that won’t bother with upside-down feeders.  (Dreamstime)

Upside-down suet feeders attract woodpeckers to beat the ban. But they discourage most grackles, which travel in flying herds, raiding bird feeders as they go. Grackles do not like to feed upside down.

Peanut feeders are the best way to offer shelled peanuts to birds. Similarly, a finch feeder provides best access to finch food.

  • CATS: Bird Studies Canada reports that about 100 million birds die each year in Canada due to cats. Consider leaving your feline indoors during the day, when birds are most active.
If you're offering bird seed, keep your cat indoors during daylight hours when birds are most active.
If you’re offering bird seed, keep your cat indoors during daylight hours when birds are most active.  (Dreamstime)
  • CLEAN: You can minimize disease by cleaning your bird feeders on a regular basis. When birds congregate around bird feeders, there is a greater propensity for the spreading of disease.
  • SQUIRRELS: They’re the elephant in the room. They love birdseed and although you won’t be able to get rid of them, you can minimize their consumption of bird food by following these tips:

Seven metres. That’s how far away from tree limbs or the eaves of your house to place your feeders.

Squirrel baffle. When they have figured out how to mount that, spray it with oil to make it slippery. Their attempts to climb it will amuse you.

Squirrel food. A corn-husk squirrel wheel is great entertainment. Available at hardware stores and birding shops.

Chickadees are brave enough to take seeds from your hand.
Chickadees are brave enough to take seeds from your hand.  (www.MarkCullen.com)
  • BIRD STUDIES CANADA is a national charity built on the contributions of thousands of supporters and Citizen Scientists whose information helps identify significant population changes and direct conservation planning. Consider joining their Project NestWatch, a program is aimed at getting people across Canada involved in collecting data on nesting birds. This information is used to follow the health of bird populations through long-term monitoring of nesting activity. The data also provide valuable information on changes in the environment, as birds are good indicators of the condition of the habitat they live in. https://birdscanada.org/
  • TORONTO ORNITHOLOGICAL CLUB is dedicated to the study of bird life in Toronto. They offer a full range of birding activities, centred on the enjoyment and conservation of birds and bird habitat in Toronto and the surrounding area. The club is for people seriously interested in birds, of all abilities and levels of experience. They welcome new members who are keen on birding, ornithology, photography, and/or conservation. Membership is $40/year. Monthly meetings are held September through June at the High Park Nature Centre. http://www.torontobirding.ca.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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