Gardening for Birds

cardinalWhen you garden for the birds, your garden and the way you maintain it changes. A mere landscape grows into a habitat full of life and beauty. Plantings that provide food and cover help ensure their survival. The presence of birds help keep the insect and weed population down, thus minimizing the need for harsh chemicals solutions which destroy other elements in our ecosystem that are important to protect. When gardeners use pesticides, they unintentionally harm birds. Purple martins, swallows and nighthawks consume vast numbers of mosquitoes. Mockingbirds consume grasshoppers, beetles, ants, weevils, spiders, sow bugs and snails. Robins and bluebirds dine on destructive grubs, Woodpeckers feast on various flying insects and insects that burrow deep into tree barks. Owls and kestrels prey on mice and other rodents. Birds help keep the weeds within boundaries too. Finches among others, prefer a summer diet of weed seeds. A few birds, including hummingbirds, even pollinate flowers as they feed from blossom to blossom.

Birds enhance gardens with their beauty, songs and activities. The bright red feathers on a male cardinal against a crisp, snowy landscape is pleasing to the eye, a male chickadee’s courtship song welcomes dawn in Spring. Robins do their worm-flinging dance on the lawn. Bird’s capacity for flight, and their instinct for survival sometimes help teach us important life lessons. Attracting birds is as simple as providing the essentials for them. Food, water, and shelter will help lure them into your backyard.

In Spring they are in the nesting mode. Offering safe areas for breeding and nesting helps sustain and even increase bird populations. Some shrubs and vines that offer good nesting sites are lilac, dogwood, barberry, wisteria, honeysuckle, and cardinal climber. Egg laying weakens female birds and affects their ability to fly far in search of food. Having food close by will help her. The female also benefits from crushed egg shells in her diet. The shells help restore the calcium lost during the egg laying cycle. Most organic gardeners use crushed egg shells in their gardens as slug/snail deterrents around plants, so placing them around the base of a plant is now a double benefit to both planting and feathered friend.

Summer marks a time of rapid change in the life-cycle of birds as they go into high gear rearing their young. In summer, your gardens will hopefully offer a cornucopia of fruits and insects to supply birds with high-energy foods. Share the bounty of your crops. Plan ahead and plant fruit-bearing trees, shrubs and vines that appeal to birds in return for the pest patrol. Birds live on seeds, insects, fruits (including berries), nuts and nectar. Birds will also need plenty of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. You’ll want to clean and fill daily to help prevent the spread of diseases. Most birds prefer shallow, no more than 2-3 inches. In early summer, the migration of hummingbirds start arriving. Plant flowers that attract them. They prefer tubular shaped flowers that produce lots of nectar. Keep hummingbird feeders filled to supplement natural nectar sources. It isn’t necessary to add red food coloring to the sugar-water feeder. Change the water frequently in warmer weather.

The fall bird garden resembles a busy airport lounge, with flight departures and arrivals on the hour, day or night. Your willingness to feed migrants becomes more and more crucial as an increasing number of wilderness rest stops are lost. They will appreciate dining on seed pods that have now formed on a variety of flowers. The berries on various trees, shrubs and vines are mature in this season and offer a nutritious meal too. Having evergreens and ornamental grasses provides dense cover for them. Other ways of offering snacks outdoors include packing window boxes and baskets with corn and berried branches.

In winter birds depend on your provisions because they don’t hibernate. Seed, suet, fresh or dried fruit, peanut butter, and nuts contain the protein and carbohydrates that birds need to survive cold periods. Consistent food supplies encourage more birds. To survive the frigid weather and to satisfy their high rate of metabolism, birds must have a constant food supply. An evergreen tree can be used to hold a survival kit. Draping treats such as cranberries, grapes, raisins, or seedy flower heads among the branches will attract a large variety of feathered friends. A supply of fresh water helps too. Keep the water from freezing with a heated birdbath or an electric heating device, or by pouring in warm water. Check bird feeders and refill them often. Remove any wet or clumped seed to prevent spoilage and contamination problems.

Whatever the season, birds cheer us up with their presence. How can we repay them for giving us such enjoyment? By supplying them with the essentials. With every passing year suitable habitat is ever short in supply. Studies show that more than two dozen bird species were listed as endangered in Indiana. If we all become more involved, we can sustain and extend their existence. Grants from the Government are available to aid in the development of vital habitats for wildlife. I urge you to make this your next backyard or community project.



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