Some of my fondest childhood memories include the time sitting on the porch of my grandparent’s house, watching the birds as they enjoyed my grandma’s garden. Robins would take turns splashing in the birdbath while hummingbirds darted around the feeders. Occasionally, some brightly colored bird would stop for a quick seed snack. Even owls could be found seeking shelter in the nooks of the ash trees. Birds offer a valuable and charming addition to the landscape. They themselves are master gardeners, responsible for seeding countless trees and other plants throughout the world. Birds help us get through the dark winter days and provide a cheerful song for us in the summer. With increasing urban growth, it’s never been more important to provide food and shelter to these wonderful creatures.
Evaluate Bird Needs
When planning a bird-friendly landscape, it’s important to first evaluate your yard to ensure the needs of the birds will be met. Water, shelter, food and lack of predators are all factors that a bird will consider when selecting a new home. Water sources could include ponds, streams and other water features as well as regularly maintained bird baths. Running water, such as a small fountain or waterfall, will attract birds very quickly. Shelter can be provided by growing trees and dense thickets in certain areas of the garden. Keep in mind that the type of habitat you provide will determine the species of birds you attract. Some birds prefer to nest in tall, mature trees while others require shrub cover. Bird houses can be used around new landscapes that have yet to mature. Dead, hollow trees also provide valuable shelter for birds such as woodpeckers and bluebirds. If the thought of leaving a dead tree in your yard is hard to swallow, consider letting flowering vines grow up its trunk.
For food, it’s best to use a wide variety of seed and fruit-bearing plants. Native plants should also be used as much as possible and are already on the menu of many native birds. Mulberries, crab apples and serviceberries are all favorites of birds. Coniferous trees such as spruce and red cedar provide a source of food to birds during the winter when everything else is dormant. Don’t forget to plant a variety of wildflowers as well. Wildflowers such as columbine, coreopsis, cosmos, Indian blanket, Indian paintbrush, purple coneflower and African daisy attract both hummingbirds and seed-eating birds. All of these wildflowers can be found in our wildflower seed mixes.
Supplemental feeding is also important for retaining wild bird populations and creating opportunities for bird watching. Keep bird feeders clean and stocked with food, especially during the winter months. Avoid cheap bird food seed mixes. Many of these cheap seed blends contain filler seeds that birds tend to ignore. Instead, look for bird feed with a high percentage of black-oil sunflower seed. Black-oil sunflower seeds are small in size, thinly shelled and high in fat. They make excellent feed for many types of birds. Hummingbirds can consume up to twice their body weight in nectar each day. When making your own hummingbird nectar, mix one part sugar to four parts boiling water and stir. Don’t add red food coloring as it’s unnecessary and possibly harmful.
Creating a Bird-Friendly Landscape
Be aware that birds will not stick around long in the presence of a hostile cat. If your cat has a problem killing birds, a collar with a bell is a smart idea. There are other things you can do to make your yard more inviting. Avoid the use of chemical pesticides around your landscape. While insects can be annoying, they provide great food for birds. You can also encourage nest building by placing bits of yarn or other materials throughout your yard for birds to build their nest with. Finally, set aside a few places around the landscape for a brush pile. These piles of dead branches not only offer protection and shelter, but also a place for birds to feed on insects.