As land across North America is increasingly developed for human use, we continue to encroach on the natural habitat of birds and other wildlife. Creating garden sanctuaries is one way to help not only our feathered friends, but also ourselves.
Bird watching provides endless hours of free entertainment. It’s a wonderful way for children to see the natural world at close range. Plus, birdsong is a far more pleasant way to wake up than a shrill alarm clock.
Best of all, birds are the organic gardener’s best friend! They eat pests that can be annoying or harmful to people, pets and plants, which means we don’t have to rely on toxic chemicals and pesticides. Birds particularly love to dine on creepy-crawlies such as slugs, snails, beetles, mosquitoes, aphids and gnats.
The Audubon Society has a few recommendations for what to provide to attract birds to the garden:
- trees and shrubs, to provide a source of food, shelter and a nearby escape from predators;
- a food source via bird feeders and purchased birdseed; hang feeders where the birds can get to them without being attacked;
- clean water for drinking and bathing;
- bird houses (remove perches as these sometimes enable predators to enter the birdhouse);
- nesting material such as string, straw, yarn, pet fur and hair.
How you landscape your garden will determine how enticing it is for birds and other wildlife. Native plants and a natural style of maintenance will bring feathered friends in, especially if you can provide shelter, food and water.
Here are some more helpful tips to garden for the birds:
- Densely planted trees and shrubs are a perfect haven for birds.
- Allow plants to keep their natural shape, as over-pruning reduces food sources (berries, buds and seeds).
- Most birds are not comfortable in gardens with huge expanses of lawn since they need to be able to take cover quickly in nearby trees and shrubs.
- Never use chemical insecticides, which can be fatal to birds.
- In the fall, don’t deadhead annual and perennial flowering plants as the seedheads provide food over the winter.
- Evergreens provide shelter as well as a source of food and nesting sites.
- Plants with tubular flowers such as honeysuckle, weigela, fuschia and penstemon attract hummingbirds in the summer.
Create a natural, bird-friendly garden in your backyard by using some of the following:
Eastern hemlock, White pine, Spruce, Fir, Red maple, Beech, Mountain Ash, Oak (white, red, pin), Crabapple, Sumac, Pin cherry, Chokeberry, Serviceberry.
Nannyberry and other viburnums, Winterberry, Quince, Rose (hips), Red-twig dogwood, Rhododendron, Berry plants (mulberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and elderberries), Flowering dogwood, Oregon grape holly, Butterfly bush.
Annuals and Perennials:
Black-eyed Susan, Phlox, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Purple coneflower, Aster, Coreopsis, Daylily, Bee balm, Cosmos, Bachelor’s buttons, Zinnias, Fuchsia.
Virginia creeper, Honeysuckle, Trumpet vine.
Marsha Middleton is a landscape designer, garden consultant and horticulturist who lives in LaHave, Nova Scotia.