Landscaping ... For the Birds (cont)
By: Lynn Ocone
Songbirds require plant cover to protect them from predators and to shelter them at night and from harsh weather. Particularly in northern regions, evergreens such as hemlocks, pines, spruces, and junipers provide essential protection, as well as seed crops and nesting sites.
In milder climates, broad-leafed evergreen shrubs and vines may be used to provide year-round cover. Cluster shrubs of different species together, and when possible, plant fruiting types, such as an evergreen holly (Ilex), that provide both food and shelter.
A windbreak planted along the edge of your property can help to protect birds from the elements. The ideal windbreak is several plants deep, starting with tall evergreens and deciduous trees at the back, midsized trees in the middle, and low shrubs along the front edge.
For a more natural appearance, weave the plants together rather than planting in straight rows.
A bird garden at its best has rough edges, plants going to seed, brush piles here and there, and even a dead tree left standing for birds to perch on and nest in. If you're a compulsive weeder and maintain a highly manicured lawn with clipped foundation plantings arranged in tidy rows, then bird gardening will require loosening up on the pruners and mower.
Of course, it is possible to have a neat, well-maintained garden and still attract birds, but a compromise is in order. Keep your manicured lawn, for example, but reduce the size. Edge it with shrubs to provide leaf litter where brown thrashers, towhees, and white-throated and fox sparrows can scratch for insects.
Even a small patch of bare earth may attract more birds than mowed lawn. Quail and wrens are among the birds that dust themselves off to maintain their feathers. A dust bath need be no more than 3 feet square and 6 inches deep. For a tidy appearance, edge it with brick or stone. Perhaps you can find an out-of-sight spot for a small, wild area where flowers, grasses, and weeds are allowed to go to seed for the birds. When replacing shrubs that require regular pruning, replant with ones that are relatively care-free, perhaps thorny wild roses that birds, such as northern cardinals and brown thrashers, seek out for nesting and refuge.
Plants native to your region will be relished by wild birds since they provide food and shelter the birds are accustomed to. In many instances, birds benefit the vegetation too by distributing seeds for future generations.
There's no shortage of beautiful natives appropriate for naturalistic bird gardens. While you needn't plant exclusively natives, why not consider planting at least a few? Most of the recommended plants are North American natives.
To find plants that will thrive in your garden, look for those that have developed naturally in your climate. Visit native plant nurseries and local botanical gardens and arboreta to learn which ones best fit your site.
For much of the year, most birds feed primarily on insects -- everything from caterpillars to mosquitoes, aphids, and mites. The plants you grow are an important source of insects for birds, and the birds help keep insects in check. By eliminating pesticides, you will increase the garden's bird appeal.