HOME: Birdscaping — Attracting birds to your landscape gardens
By Bob Lilenfeld
Montcalm County Advanced Master Gardener
Homeowners understand the value of landscaping as a way to make both their home and yard more attractive to people. Landscaping to attract birds is called birdscaping, and is simply a way to provide our feathered friends with year round sources of food, water, shelter and safe places to raise a family.
One of the first books to describe birdscaping was published in 1994 and written by G. Adams — “Birdscaping Your Garden.”
To fully enjoy the visits of birds to your yard, make sure you can see your birdscaping areas from several windows in your home, especially from the porches and decks around your house.
A variety of plants including annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and vines will welcome birds to your yard and give you a view of nature that is really special.
Use plants that are native or have adapted to your local climate and are suitable for the soil in your garden.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Attracting various kinds of birds takes a host of different food stocks. These foods can be obtained from a variety of plants that yield seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and nectar.
Consider using the following plants that have been successfully grown locally:
• Perennials, such as black-eyed susans and purple cone flowers, which supply seeds for food. These plants add beautiful colored flowers to the landscape. Their stalks remain basically intact and supply much needed food throughout the winter. Some of the seed eating birds include chickadees, goldfinches and towhees.
• Marigolds, cosmos and zinnias are among annuals that add color to the landscape and attract many birds including finches, sparrows and nuthatches.
• Sedum are unusual perennials that flower in mid/late fall and have seed pods available though most of the winter. Nearly all seed eating birds enjoy eating sedum seed pods.
• Tubular-shaped nectar producing flowers such as Cardinal flowers and bee bahm are sources of nectar for hummingbirds, orioles and other birds that love to sip this sweet liquid. Additionally, these birds are efficient pollinators of many garden flowers. They give the landscape of gardens an added color boost from increased blooms which in turn attract even more birds. Insects drawn to these plants also become food for many birds.
• Fruit is provided during the entire year by small trees and shrubs such as crabapple, dogwoods, virburnums and serviceberries. Many birds are regular fruit eaters, including robins, orioles, chickadees, bluebirds and finches.
• Conifers, such as pines and spruces, provide seeds, cover and nesting sites for many birds including goldfinches, chickadees and nuthatches.
If necessary, bird feeders can be used to supplement the plant food, especially in the winter.
Depending upon the bird species, small shrubs and trees — and even brush piles — can supply shelter. Good shelter consists of several layers of plant material. This would include plants at ground level, shrub level and at tree level. The more varieties you plant, the more needs of various bird species will be met.
Sources of clear water, preferably moving, will attract a variety of birds. Birds need lots of water — they have a high metabolic rate and have respiratory systems that drain body water quickly. They also require water to bathe and preen their feathers. Clean feathers are necessary for flight. Having a small pond with flowing water or even a birdbath with dripping water will be a welcome sight and attract many more birds.
Do not be satisfied with just a garden. With a little effort and creativity you can transform your landscape into a birdscape that you, your family, friends and, especially your new bird guests will really enjoy.
As an added bonus, many varieties of butterflies will also be attracted to your birdscape gardens.
Great sources of online information can be found at Michigan Audubon Society’s website, www.michiganaudubon.org, and Cornell-Lab of Ornithology at www.birds.cornell.edu.