At this time of year, when the leaves are off the trees and a lot of my flowers are dormant, I am especially aware of the sights and sounds of birds in my garden. Besides the pure enjoyment of watching a fat robin splashing in a birdbath or a nuthatch scampering headfirst down the trunk of a tree, there are other good reasons to make your yard a bird-friendly habitat. Birds may pollinate plants, they eat and disperse seeds, and they consume enormous numbers of insects that are garden pests...aphids, mosquitoes, caterpillars, and more.
Four ingredients are needed to meet the needs of wild birds –
cover, nesting sites, water, and food. For protection from predators
and bad weather, as well as for nesting sites, it’s beneficial to have
multi-level plantings, with tall trees, lower trees, shrubbery, and
ground covers. This will increase your likelihood of attracting
a variety of birds. Some birds may search for food on the ground,
nest in shrubbery, and sing up on a high branch. Conifers and
other evergreen plants are useful, as they provide good cover
and protection year-round.
Water, of course, is essential, both for drinking and bathing. Moving
water is especially attractive to birds, so if you have the opportunity
, put a small fountain or bubbler somewhere in your yard. If you
have a birdbath, it’s important to keep it clean, as algae can form quickly. When the temperatures go below freezing it’s a little trouble, but worth it, to keep the water source free of ice.
There are so many ways to plan a garden that will provide food for different birds at different seasons. In spring, parents may eat certain fruits and berries for energy as they gather food for their babies. In fall, migrating birds need other foods as they store fat for their long flights. Variety is the key. Consider using native plants when you can. Birds will eat the seeds and fruits of non-natives, but they may not get the most nutritional value from these plants. Also, insects tend to be pickier and may not be attracted to non-natives, thus reducing the food supply for insect-eating birds. Even birds that eat seeds and fruits often need insects to feed their young.
Birdfeeders and suet feeders benefit certain species, but to draw a wider range of birds, add an assortment of plants that produce fruits, seeds, and nectar. There are plenty to choose from that will be beautiful as well as useful in your landscape. For fruits, many hollies, including winterberry, have bright red berries in the fall, which attract bluebirds, cedar waxwings, and mockingbirds. The berries are produced on female plants, so a male tree must be nearby. Beautyberry’s pink-purple fruits are distinctive, and serviceberry, wax myrtle, junipers and dogwoods are also good choices.
If you want plants that provide seeds, larger birds will eat acorns from several kinds of oaks, and the cones of many conifers are packed with nutritious seeds. The shagbark hickory is interesting because squirrels will eat the nuts and then leave scraps to be eaten by a number of common birds. Familiar perennials such as purple cone flower, sunflower, and black-eyed Susans will attract birds if you don’t mind leaving the spent seed heads in your garden after they have bloomed. It’s fun to see bright goldfinches flock to these plants. Grasses are also a good source of seeds in the fall.
Lastly, to encourage hummingbirds, plant colorful, nectar-producing plants such as cardinal flower, coral honeysuckle, and trumpet creeper.
Carefully selecting a variety of plants will ensure a supply of food and habitats to encourage birds to visit your gardens in the winter months and throughout the year.
Bio: Kate Ramsey moved to Black Mountain three years ago from Atlanta, where she was for many years an elementary teacher at a Montessori school. A co-chair of the Beautification Committee, she volunteers with the Friends of the Library and Swannanoa Valley Ministry.