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Attracting Native Birds with the Right Landscaping

May 7th, 2009 · No Comments

Attracting Native Birds

[If you’d like to attract hummingbirds, please visit BLI’s Hummingbird garden.]

Before you set up bird houses or start buying seed, you’ll want to know the specific housing and food requirments of the bird species in your area. Guide books such as “Collins Bird Guide for Britain and Europe” by Lars Svensson or, in Australia, Nigel Wheatley’s “What Bird Is That?” are excellent and inexpensive ways to learn more about your local birds. In the U.S. bird guides are usually divided by geographic region. The regional guides of the “All the Backyard Birds” series put out by the American Bird Conservancy is a good place to start. A local plant nursery or veterenarian might also provide guidance. Just because you haven’t seen many birds near your house, doesn’t mean they aren’t in the area — many birds won’t bother to enter gardens that don’t provide them with food and shelter.

Bird baths and water features

A water feature is vital if you want birds to frequent your backyard. Just the sound of water dripping or gurgling will attract new birds and there are many ways to add water for drinking and bathing. Here are some things to consider when adding water to your yard: Bird bath — from the fancy commercial versions to a simple flower pot saucer, birds aren’t choosy. While the water shouldn’t deep too deep, to accomodate small and large birds, a multi-level bath with water depth ranging from 1/2 an inch to three inches will work best. This can be accomplished by buying or building a deep birdbath and simply building a shelf of flat rocks on one end. Cardinals are known for their love of bathing pools, but warblers, vireos, buntings, cuckoos, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers and herons also enjoy a water source.

A silent bird bath may never be noticed. A dripping feature not only helps the birds find the bath, but will also give birds a place to perch and while they drink the formning drips. To make a simple drip feature drill a very small hole in a bucket (be careful when drilling — make the hole too big and you’ve just ruined the bucket) and hang the bucket over the bird bath.
You could construct your own. If a hanging bucket isn’t your idea of good garden decor, place the bucket in a hanging basket and fill the outer space with trailing plants.

Misters are a major draw for some birds, most notably hummingbirds and warblers. Positioning the mister over a plant and so that the mist drip over leaves and into the birdbath below will give you a mister, drip feature, and re-filling birdbath in one. Set the mister at a low volume of mist that can be absorbed by the surrounding environment.

Dust Bath

After a good soaking, the birds may want to take advantage of a dust bath. A dust bath need be nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground filled with clean loose soil. If you prefer to keep it contained, you can also set a birdbath plate or other plate into the ground.

Feeding birds

Bird feeders

In all native bird garden landscapes, a diversity of plants, rather than store-bought seed mix, provides the healthiest diet for the birds. Choose plants whose berries and seeds will ripen at different times of the year, those that will provide a range of nesting materials and nest sites, and will attract a variety of insects. You might offer grain for sparrows and sunflowers for larger birds. You could provide
bird houses and also feeding stations and keep them full and in place early
in the growing season. offers detailed information on
which birds eat what .

Native plants

Plants that produce seeds and berries will be popular will almost all types of birds. Nectar-producing plants will attract hummingbirds, along with butterflies. Berries can attract waxwings, mockingbirds, orioles, yellow-breasted chats, and house finches, while Goldfinches enjoy the dying flowers of rudbeckia, sunflower and coneflower. Vegetation also provides shelter from bad weather and predators and it also provides food. Because some birds spend most of their time in the tree tops while others stay on the ground, multi-level vegetation is necessary. Medium-height plants such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), black cherry,
rhododendrons, and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefoliaare) work well. A few recommendations for the northeast are flowering dogwood, eastern red cedar, wild strawberries, and wild rose. In the plains states consider planting cockspur hawthorn, sargent crab apple, common chokecherry, and western hemlock. Western red cedar, prickly pear cactus, golden current, and
wintergreen will attract birds in the western desert and mountains. Some suggestions for the west coast are mountain dogwood,
California live oak, manzanita, and ninebark. If in doubt, check with your local
garden center to see which of these plants will do well in your specific area.
Pther favorites include mulberry tree, bayberries (Myrica cerifera), buckthorns, chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia), cotoneaster, crab apple, dogwoods, elders, hawthorns, honeysuckles, roses, serviceberry (Amelanchier ssp.), and viburnum (Viburnum lentago).

Planting design for the native bird garden

When considering which types of vegetation to plant, start with the taller trees, then the shorter, “understory” trees and shrubs, and plan the flowers last. This not only makes designing easier, it helps create a multi-tiered garden and with a provide a rich understory. It also develop the edges between wooded areas and open areas. The border area between habitats are prime opportunities for a dense and diverse assortment of bird-attracting plants and creating these areas will increase bird species diversity in your yard. Hummingbirds, phoebes, titmice, and orioles are particularly drawn to these areas. Provide several layers for different kinds of birds by planting clusters of shade-loving small trees, shrubs, and ground covers under taller trees. They use the open flying space of driveways, lawns, and low vegetable gardens for easy access to the plants along the borders.

The spacing between trees and shrubs, the preferred combination of open areas and adjoining thick cover, and the degree of seclusion and protection from the wind are all important factors when designing for birds. Shrubs planted nearby will also provide the birds hiding places and can even serve as nesting sites. Evergreen trees and others that provide shelter help to attract birds, but plants
that offer food are more desirable to them.

Planned neglect

Rather than requiring extra work, bird gardening actually calls for a bit of planned “neglect”. Leaving dead seed heads on the native plants will feed birds during all seasons. Native wildflowers patches will appeal to birds because the birds have been familiar with these plants for generations. For some birds, migratory paths are probably influenced by reliable wildflower distribution.

Native and ornamental grasses are easy to grow and the birds will appreciate them. If you can let an area of your property grow wild, the birds will appreciate the seed heads left on dying plants. Prairie restoration is growing in popularity. Tall-grass, mixed-grass and short-grass prairies are important to wild birds.

Long hedgerows will also encourage birds to stay. With enough diversity of evergreen shrubs, berries, thorny plants, fruit and nectar
producing plants, you can attract and protect a multitude of wildlife. Thicket – Having an thicket that provides dense cover is an easy way to encourage birds to come closer to seating areas where you can see them. Plants which offer berries are intermingled with flowering plants which attract insects. Leave hedges unclipped, or prune them naturally by selective branch removal rather than shearing. Restrict pruning to late winter, after any loose fruit has been eaten and before birds begin nesting in early spring.

A branch and brush pile will also provide good cover and give you a better chance to watch ground-feeding birds. Sparrows, towhees, and wrens love leaf litter and a brush pile. Large dead branches, standing dead trees, fallen trees, and stumps are excellent attract insects and larvae, which birds come to eat, and they also
provide nesting sites for nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, and other cavity-nesting birds.
Let fallen leaves lie instead of raking them away. They
will settle into a bed of mulch that adds richness to the soil as well as creating
insect-rich areas for ground-foraging birds. Include about half evergreen and half deciduous plants in your woodland.

Wildflower meadows also provide food and cover for birds.
A large unused lawn can be converted into a wildflower meadow with a little tilling and some packages of meadow flower seeds.

Sunny landscape with areas of lawn broken up by shrubs, flowers, and fruiting trees are most likely to attract birds of a neighboring open country, for example the California Quail, Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow. Plant vines on trellises, fences, and arbors. American Robins and Mourning Doves may nest there, and the tubular flowers of vines attract hummingbirds.

Bird houses

Although, unfortunately, not every species of bird will use a bird house,
there are still approximately 30 species who will. As with food, every species
has its own preferences. You need to decide which bird you want to attract, then get a house for that particular bird.
The Baltimore Bird Club offers a list
of bird nesting habits
to help you decide. Trees and shrubs are common nesting sites, but cavity nesting species prefer snags of dead trees or stumps.
Dense vines are also used by many birds. For human name bird houses and nesting shelves the correct size are important for attracting the desired bird.

Proctecting the birds

Protect your birds from cats by keeping cats out of the garden in the first place, providing birds with hiding places, and not plancing feeders and baths near shrubbery where cats can hide. Even the best fed cat in an hunts by instict and will attack fledglings and their parents if given the chance. As much as possible, open spaces should be bordered to protect them from wind and street noise. A word of warning: A brush pile also might provide cover for roof rats, skunks and other pests. In fact, birds can attract snakes. Dense vines can provide excellent cover and make the birds more amenable to being watched, too. If you’re attracting birds do not use poisonous chemicals such as “chemical” weed killers or fertilizers. Organic versions are widely available and even some safe, common kitchen products can work well (for example, corn gluten meal or a combination of vinegar, clove oil, and lemon juice can be used to combine weeds).

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