Gardening for Birds

By:Kathryn Courtney

Nikon D90; AF-Zoom Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR + TC-14E II; exposure: 1/160 sec @ f/9, ISO 400; post-processed with Apple Aperture 3.


I was sitting in my swing yesterday evening watching the birds. There were Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Inca Doves and the ever present Sparrows. I have to admit to a fondness for the Sparrows. They are very busy birds.  They were flying from trees to shrubs to plants and back to trees. Their antics were vastly entertaining so I stayed outside for quite awhile. As I sat in my swing I realized I was slowly unwinding and relaxing from a very stressful day. Watching birds, I decided, was a huge improvement over pharmaceuticals for stress relief. Bird watching is free, easy and there is no insurance to deal with. Making your backyard bird friendly is very easy to do. Birds require 4 things to be happy: shelter and nesting space, a source of water, food and a pesticide and herbicide free yard.

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D1X 2003/03/06 05:32:09.3 JPEG (8-bit) Fine Image Size: Large (3008 x 1960) Color Lens: 400mm f/2.8 Focal Length: 800mm Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern 1/50 sec - f/5.6 Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sensitivity: ISO 125 White Balance: Shade AF Mode: AF-C Tone Comp: More Contrast Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB) Hue Adjustment: 0° Sharpening: Normal Noise Reduction: Image Comment: [#End of Shooting Data Section]

     Providing nesting and shelter places are probably already done in your yard. Most gardens already have trees and shrubs that provide nesting and shelter for birds. My Cardinals love nesting in the very large yesterday,today and tomorrow bushes. A majority of our birds will always nest in trees. Dense shrubs and vines also provide nesting areas. Large climbing roses make great shelter and nesting spots.  Antique roses also have hips in the fall that provide food for birds. Many trees and shrubs serve this dual purpose. Oaks and pecans provide both shelter and nuts, cedars provide berries and thick shelter and crabapples and mulberries provide fruit. Some birds that visit our area are cavity nesters. These are the birds that will use hollow spots in trees or birdhouses for nesting. Chickadees, Finches and Wrens are all cavity nesters. If you want to provide houses for these birds there are a few things to look for. The door of the birdhouse should be no bigger than 1& 1/4 inches wide to prevent predators from entering. The door should also be facing away from high traffic areas in the garden. A good birdhouse needs easy access for cleaning at the end of breeding season. After you clean your birdhouse you can either store it or put it back out for sheltering birds in Winter. We have found birds will use all kinds of things for nests here at Maas. They love empty hanging baskets with coco liners, trellises, fences, and even empty pots.inca dove

     Closely related to providing shelter is providing food. As I mentioned before many plants provide both. Some sources of food are bushes and trees with berries or nuts, flowers and grasses with seed heads, or best yet, gardens and flowers with insects. These food sources will feed the birds almost year round. Make sure all the plants used for bird food are organic. It is important, really, that your whole backyard is organic. Plant an abundance of different kinds of food plants in small drifts around the garden. Let a few of your annuals go to seed every time you deadhead your flowers to provide seed for your birds. In winter, when food is scarce, put bird feeders out. For larger seeds like sunflower use a platform feeder. Tube feeders are good for smaller seed such as nyger or thistle seeds. Make sure feeders are hung in protected areas away from predators. Keep them clean and full of organic seed. Birds prefer morning feeding, so if you can provide a southeastern exposure for your feeder that’s best.

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) perched on a mossy stump in Victoria, BC, Canada.

  The next requirement is a source of clean water for your garden. You can add anything from a shallow dish or pot saucer to a fancy fountain to make the birds happy. Birdbaths need to be safe and accessible to the birds. Placing the bath near trees or shrubs gives birds an easy getaway from predators. Keeping the water depth 2 to 3 inches deep is safe for most birds. Add a flat rock in the deepest part of the bath for small birds. Baths can often be hung in trees for safety. Refill the birdbath every other day or sometimes daily in the summer. Mosquito Bits can be used to keep the mosquitoes under control and the bits are bird safe.
     Last but not least, please keep synthetic pesticides and herbicides out of your garden. Pesticides kill insects, an important source of food for birds, and poison seeds and berries. They also poison water sources. There are many organic alternatives to these synthetic chemicals. A strong spray of water can knock a lot of bugs off of your plants or just pick bugs off with gloved fingers and dump them in a bucket of soapy water. There are also natural products that can be used on bugs, use these products as a last resort.  Just because a product is organic doesn’t mean its not harmful. Natural products such as corn gluten, agricultural vinegar and molasses can be used for weed control.Cinnamon is a good selective weed killer for crabgrass. We have many organic products to control bugs and weeds here at Maas. If you are having a problem in your garden, come see us. We can help you with organic solutions. Keep your yard organic not only for the birds but also for your pets and children. More and more pesticides and herbicides are being proven carcinogenic and harmful to people and the environment.
     Birds are a joy to have in the garden. They eat bugs off vegetable and flower plants, mockingbirds chase squirrels, and watching them provides free relaxing entertainment. Here at Maas we have feeders, houses, birdbaths and all the plants you need to make your yard a bird paradise. Come see us and we will help you find the best plants and bird accessories for your garden. Also, check out our Backyard Bird Plants list for more ideas.