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One of the most rewarding aspects of gardening is creating a landscape that not only delights our eyes and gives us space for recreation and relaxation, but welcomes in a wide variety of birds in as well. A garden filled with the sounds and sights of birds is one that offers an extra dimension of pleasure and its benefits go beyond the joy of sharing space with such beautiful and interesting neighbors. A bird-friendly garden benefits the environment as a whole and has fewer pests, thanks to insect eating birds. Here are ten suggestions for ways to make your landscape a haven for feathered friends.
Choose berry and seed producing trees and shrubs to provide a banquet for birds throughout the seasons. A mixed tree and shrub border along the perimeter of your yard with plants of varying heights offers food and nesting habitat to a wide variety of birds. Choosing plants that bloom and fruit at different times of the year provides sustenance to birds all year long and add enhances your garden with ever-changing seasonal interest.
Native plants offer the biggest nutritional benefits to birds. Long-lived native trees provide food, nesting spots, and shelter for many species of birds – not to mention perches from which to pour out their avian melodies. Evergreen trees and shrubs are great for providing nesting areas and protection from predators and bad weather, as are thorny deciduous shrubs. Your state Extension Service, local Master Gardeners program, and local Audubon Society chapter often have good information on selecting bird-friendly native plants adapted to your specific part of the country.
Converting a portion of your lawn to more bird-friendly plantings will provide nourishment to birds and decrease the amount of mowing (with its attendant noise and air pollution) you need to spend time doing. Entice hummingbirds to your garden with brightly colored, tubular flowers such as bee balm, cardinal flower, and columbines. Provide seed-eaters with nourishing snacks by letting ornamental grasses and perennials such as coneflowers and black-eyed Susans go to seed.
Water is a real draw for birds, both to drink and bathe in. Change the water in birdbaths frequently and sanitize them regularly. If there are cats in the neighborhood, be sure that the bowl of the birdbath is on a pedestal and try to locate it near some dense shrubs so that birds have an easy path to cover.
Here’s a tip that helps the birds and saves you some work. If you can let at least a small section of your yard “go natural,” you’ll provide a feeding and nesting spot for birds, especially ground feeding birds. When you accumulate woody trimmings from your landscape plants, pile them up in an inconspicuous corner to create a brush pile to shelter birds. Make a mud puddle by scooping out a depression about 2 feet in diameter, then adding enough water to make muddy slurry. The mud will be used by robins and other birds to strengthen their nests.
Instead of gathering up all your leaves in the fall, rake some under the shrubs in your yard where they’ll create a natural mulch that provides an excellent foraging spot for ground-feeding birds like sparrows. Plus it’s less work for you!
Find out what birds are nesters in your area. Build or buy houses that are suited the preferred dimensions and entrance hole sizes for the species that are likely to visit your garden. Set the houses in the landscape by taking into account the preferred habitat and distance of the house from the ground for different kinds of birds. Cavity-nesting birds such as owls, woodpeckers, swifts, and titmice have an especially hard time finding nesting spots in cultivated landscapes. Help them out by erecting nesting boxes. Be sure to clean out old nests and other debris from houses each spring before nesting season begins.
Supplementing natural food sources in the landscape with feeding stations not only nourishes birds but makes it easier for us to observe these lovely creatures up close. Be sure to clean and sanitize feeders regularly. Scrub in soapy water, then immerse feeders in a solution of nine parts water to one part household bleach. Finish by rinsing thoroughly. The National Audubon Society recommends cleaning feeders once or twice a month to reduce the possibility of disease spread. Discard any old seed in the feeder at cleaning time and rake up spilled seeds and hulls on the ground to prevent the growth of harmful mold. If you put out multiple feeders, space them around your yard, as crowding leads to the easy spread of disease. To keep birds from getting injured by striking a window, move feeders near the house to within three feet of windows. If birds are startled, they aren’t as likely to develop enough momentum to harm themselves if they so strike the glass.
Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides on lawns and other plantings helps birds and all the other creatures in the landscape – including you and your children and pets—stay healthy. It also protects waterways from toxin-laden runoff. Learn to use less toxic control strategies first for dealing with pests and weeds in the landscape. If you feel you must use a pesticide, choose the least toxic one available and read and follow all the label instructions and precautions.
Birds really benefit from an unbroken corridor of plantings to travel through. Encourage your neighbors to join you in putting in landscaping to feed and shelter birds and provide a continous natural link from yard to yard. Imagine entire neighborhoods filled with the greenery of bird-friendly plantings, alive with bird song on a spring morning – what a goal to work toward!