Magazine article The Saturday Evening Post

Landscaping: That's for the Birds: Let Your Garden Sing This Year with Planting Designed to Attract Your Feathered Friends

Magazine article The Saturday Evening Post

Landscaping: That's for the Birds: Let Your Garden Sing This Year with Planting Designed to Attract Your Feathered Friends

Article excerpt


Imagine witnessing the brilliant orange and black dress of a Baltimore oriole, the captivating antics of a ruby-throated hummingbird or the melodic song of a house finch--right in your own backyard! All it takes is some "birdscaping" know-how to enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience with a feathered friend.

Simply defined as creating bird-friendly habitats with the use of plants (preferably native) and other means, birdscaping is a technique that combines two of America's fastest growing pastimes--birding and gardening.

"Gardening and attracting birds go hand in hand, as both involve working with your yard's natural environment," explains Heather Lamb, editor of Birds & Blooms magazine. "Birdscaping just means that you plan your garden with the intent of attracting birds. The outcome is a pretty garden alive with pretty songbirds."

To successfully create a backyard that's for the birds, you must know the basics required for their survival. Food, water, and shelter are the crux of any bird-friendly ecosystem. There's a good chance you already have one or more of these elements in your landscape, so take inventory before getting started. Note any conifers, deciduous trees, berry-laden shrubs, nectar- or seed-producing perennials and annuals, birdhouses, or birdbaths. Build on existing plants and make a wish list of items you want to grow. Before putting anything in the ground, however, consider its mature size and care requirements.


Also, become familiar with the bird species that reside or migrate through your area. After all, you won't find a western tanager in Connecticut, no matter how many orange halves you put out for it.

Set the table.

Birds, like humans, appreciate a good meal. "Feeding birds creates a connection with something beyond my control," Lamb says. "I can provide the right seed, but I can't make a goldfinch stop by to eat it. It's a privilege, an unexpected gift that puts a smile on my face."

Birds' diets are diverse. Some prefer fruit, nectar, or sugar water. Others gobble up seeds, nuts, berries, buds, or insects. To optimize your chances of winged diners, offer a mix of native annuals, perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs that provide sustenance.

Know when your plants produce fruit or go to seed. By incorporating picks that feed birds throughout the year--cherry in summer, sunflower in fall, hawthorn in winter--you ensure a four-season flurry of activity.

Set out bird feeders, which supplement nature's bounty during lean times such as early spring (when migration is in full swing). Popular offerings include sugar water for hummingbirds and tanagers; live mealworms for bluebirds and American robins; orange halves for orioles; sunflower seeds for grosbeaks, jays, northern cardinals, and chickadees; and nyjer (thistle) seed for finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.

Give them shelter.

Cover is as important to birds as food. Backyard bird expert and author George Harrison recommends that "every bird-scaped yard have both man-made and natural shelter. Man-made in the form of birdhouses, roosting boxes, and brush piles. But, more importantly, natural habitat--trees, shrubs, and ground cover into which birds can escape when threatened."

Trees and shrubs provide protected nesting sites, a place to perch, and a safe haven from predators. Groupings of evergreens, thorny thickets, and ornamental grasses are adequate places for birds to hide from threats such as hawks and cats. Dense conifers also offer four-season refuge, and thick stands of shrubbery shield birds from cold, wind, rain, and snow.

"The best format for natural shelter is in the form of stadium seating," Harrison explains. "Locate the tallest trees farthest from your favorite bird viewing window, the shrubs closer, and ground cover closest. This staging allows the bird watcher to view all the birds that use each of the natural niches, from the warblers and flycatchers in the tallest habitat, to the cardinals, blue jays, and chickadees in the middle, and the sparrows, doves, and juncos on the ground. …

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