In the winter, I love watching birds enjoying a snack at the bird feeders and playing in the heated birdbath. They are both entertaining and fascinating to watch. However, when springtime comes and the birdseed-loving bears are waking up from hibernation, I take down the feeders. Initially, I worried that I would no longer see birds in our yard without the feeders, but it turns out that there are many other ways to attract birds to your landscape. With a bit of planning, your garden can become an inviting bird habitat that can provide all the needs of our feathered friends.
With habitats dwindling due to human development, migrating birds rely on home gardens more than ever to find food and shelter. We need to keep a few things in mind to create more inviting habitats. Three key components should be considered when attracting birds to our landscape: food, water, and shelter.
Shelter can be provided by planting trees and shrubs and offering birdhouses and nesting boxes. Evergreens offer excellent year-round refuge for many bird species. Even dead trees and brush piles can give birds protection from predators. Planting native grasses will also provide both cover and nesting material.
Natural water sources, such as ponds or streams provide birds with a place to drink and bathe. However, consider adding a birdbath if your landscape doesn’t have a natural water source. A shallow basin placed on a pedestal or at ground level is an excellent addition to the garden and will attract many bird species. Adding a heater in the winter months will ensure that birds have year-round access to fresh water for drinking and bathing. Remember to clean the birdbath frequently to avoid spreading disease among the visiting bird species and place it in a clear area to avoid predation.
To attract birds to the garden, grow a wide variety of plants to provide seeds, nuts, berries, and nectar. Use native plants whenever possible, as our native birds are adapted to eat from native plants. Natives typically host a wider variety of insects for birds to eat and, since they are adapted to the area, tend to be less maintenance. Host plants for caterpillars are excellent choices, as they are the primary food source for birds raising chicks. Also, consider plants that provide food throughout the seasons so that your landscape can be a year-round food source for birds. For seeds, nuts or berries, consider Oaks, Willow, Northern Spicebush, Winterberry, Beech, Hickory, Holly, American Beautyberry, Sumac, Serviceberry, Evergreens, Crabapples, Flowering Dogwoods, Common Buttonbush, Highbush Blueberry, and Virginia Creeper.
Nectar-loving birds, such as hummingbirds, enjoy American columbine, foxglove, wild bergamot, cardinal flower, and jewelweed, which are all great additions to the garden. Offering food sources in layers and at different heights, such as ground covers, low plants, shrubs, and trees, is also helpful in attracting many birds.
Another way to attract birds to your garden is to wait until spring for garden clean-up. Dried flower heads left in the garden can provide seeds for overwintering birds. Also, dried flower stalks and fallen leaves give insect larva places to hibernate. These insects will become food for migrating birds and their chicks when they return in the spring.
Besides being enjoyable to watch, there are many reasons why gardeners should want to attract birds to their gardens. Insect-eating birds eat thousands of insects per day, helping to manage garden pests, and seed-eating birds consume large amounts of weed seeds. Having a healthy bird population in your garden eliminates the need for toxic pesticides and herbicides. Some birds, such as hummingbirds, also play a role in pollination, yet another benefit to your garden. Birds are significant indicators of environmental health, and by creating habitats in your landscape to attract a diverse bird population, you increase the health of your garden. Having birds around is also great for our mental health, as research has shown that bird watching reduces stress and anxiety.
So, the next time you visit a nursery or flip through a seed catalog, keep birds in mind. They are beneficial to our gardens, us, and the planet, and they need our help. By creating a bird-friendly habitat in your garden, the birds, the environment, your mental health, and your plants with all thank you.