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How to Build a Bird Friendly Garden

How to Build a Bird Friendly Garden

There are few things more soothing than waking up to the sound of happily tweeting birds outside your window. It's not hard to attract birds to your garden, and some species, such as the European starling and house sparrow, tend to show up in hordes whether you want them to or not. But if you want attract a greater diversity of species, ranging from tiny yellow finches to enormous grey owls, it helps to create the appropriate habitat for them.

Plants

Plants that are native to your area are always a good choice for attracting birdlife. But a wide range of commonly available plants, both native and exotic, will do the job. There are three main things to keep in mind when shopping for bird friendly plants.

Dense Shrubbery

Evergreen shrubs such as boxwood, holly, and juniper are used as nesting sites for many species, but are an important as a protective hiding place for all species when a predator is near.

Food Sources

Different birds feed on different types of plants, but species with fruit or berries, such as crabapple, barberry, and beauty berry are particularly attractive to most song birds. You may also wish to plant species with large, abundant seed heads, such as ornamental millet.

Diversity

Planting a wide range of species is perhaps the most important principle of all. This will help you succeed in attracting a wide variety of birds, especially if you make the extra effort to use species that fruit at different times of year. Plants that hold onto their berries through the winter, such as pyracantha and most types of holly, are especially important.

Design

How you arrange plants and other garden elements also makes a difference in the birds you will attract. In general, the more dense the vegetation in your yard, the more birds you are likely to have. But even a yard dominated by a large open lawn can attract plenty of birds if it has dense shrubbery along the edges comprised of diverse plant types. Try layering large trees, small trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers in a single planting for maximum bird life benefit.

Avian infrastructure, such as birdbaths, feeders, and bird houses, need to be placed appropriately in order for birds to use them. Birdbaths, or other water features like fountains and ponds, are essential for drinking and bathing. If possible, locate water features in areas of the yard not frequented by pets. Encouraging dense vegetation around one side of a water feature helps birds feel safe and using it, as the will have a place to flit away to if they feel threatened.

Feeders and birdhouses should be at least 4 feet (1.2 m) off the ground—the higher the better—and may require protection from predators and competing species, such as squirrels and rodents.

Upkeep

The good news is that bird friendly gardens require very little maintenance. In fact, the more wild the garden is, the more attractive it will be to birds. Not that you won't want to do maintenance for aesthetic reasons, but the less cutting back you do the better—you'll not only reduce the available habitat, the sound of mechanized equipment can drive birds away from wanting to nest on your property.

But there are a few things that will need tending to.

Clean out birdhouses in late fall each year, so they are fresh and ready for the following spring.

Refresh the water in birdbaths at least once a week to keep it clean and inviting.

Avoid using pesticides and other harsh chemicals in the landscape, as these may affect birds directly, or threaten insects and other creatures that are important food sources for your winged friends.

Companion Plants

Ornamental Millet (Pennisetum glaucum)

Millet is a plant traditionally known for its uses in agriculture, but recently developed hybrids have elevated this plant to garden-worthy status. In fact, the dense flower heads and long, strappy… More Details »

Crabapple (Malus species)

Crabapples are perfect for adding year round structure and interest to the landscape. Softly colored, lightly scented spring blooms are followed by small, attractive fruits in summer. Often the… More Details »

Common Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

A prairie native and a tough, self-reliant garden plant. Rose-purple petals arch back from a central, spiky seed cone. The blooms are held on sturdy stems. Attracts butterflies to the garden. More Details »