Attracting Birds to your Garden

Why would you want to attract birds to your garden?

  •  Birds eat insects: Birds are free workers in your garden, helping to keep the insect population under control.
  •  Aesthetics:   Birds are a joy to the eye and to the ear. Their brilliant  colours, varied songs, and entertaining behaviour adds to the general beauty and relaxation of any garden.
  •  Sentinels of trouble:  Often the first sign of the presence of white grubs is increased crow activity on the lawn. If the gold finches seem to be taking a special interest in your roses, it is time to check for aphids.

 What is needed?

  • Water:  A water fountain, bird bath, dripping hose, or a simple pan of water can provide water for birds to drink and bathe. Whatever you use, it needs to be clean. A quick scrub with a stiff brush works well on the fountain and bird bath. A pan of water needs to be changed ever other day.
  • Food:  Leave seed heads on annuals and perennials. Plants with tubular flowers attract nectar feeders and trees or shrubs with berries, fruit, nuts or seeds attract seed eaters. Of course, insects will be there, you do not have to provide them. Think about planting so food is available throughout the year. Plant native plants. Your local birds are not exotic, therefore they will not eat seeds from exotic introduced plants.
  • Shelter from weather and predators: Trees and dense shrubs offer birds an escape from wind, cold and predators such as the neighbourhood cat.
  • Nesting sites:  Thickets, trees, a tangle of vines, a birdhouse. A safe place to raise their young will keep birds close by all season and baby birds eat thousands of insects. Even Hummingbird babies need to eat tiny insects.
  • A Compost pile:  Any good garden has a compost pile. It is inhabited by many insects which attract birds. Leaf-litter provides a ready source of insects, leave some under shrubs, by spring it will become rich soil filled with earthworms and insects.

Who might set-up residence in your yard? 

  • Robin, hummingbird, brown thrasher, oriole, finch, fly catcher, morning dove, red breasted nuthatch, wren, rose breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager, purple martin, eastern phoebe, cardinal, wood thrush, chickadee, siskin, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, blue jay, catbird, redpoll and vireo are regular visitors to London neighbourhoods.
  • Woodpeckers are pest control machines, eating bark beetles, tent caterpillars and other plant pests.
  • Purple Martins swoop about to eat flying insects such as mosquitoes, beetles and swarming insects.
  • .House wrens nest twice a season and feed their clutch insects from dawn until dusk.

What to plant?

  •  Trees: particularly those providing food in the form nuts, fruit, berries, or seeds. Chokecherry, Mountain Ash, Russian Olive, and Sassafras are good choices. The seeds of White Birch will attract Pine Siskins, Goldfinches and Redpolls. Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos and Orioles prefer the safety of  the high canopy of Maples, Oaks and native Mulberry, not to mention the fruit of Mulberry. Conifers such as Hemlock, Fir, Larch, Pine, Spruce, and Yew provide dense foliage for shelter, protection, and nesting sites, as well as seeds and berries for food.
  • Shrubs: Small fruiting shrubs such as gooseberry, currants, raspberry, and elderberry attract thrushes and warblers. All viburnums, except double-flowered Snowball, have fruit birds will eat. High Bush Cranberry and Nannyberry are favourites of the Brown Thrasher. Oregon Grape Holly, Bush Honeysuckle, Rugosa Roses, Dogwoods, Serviceberry, Coralberry, Snowberry, Privet, Spicebush, will attract many birds. Weigela, Beauty Bush, Butterfly Bush will attract nectar feeders.
  • Vines:  Morning glory, Trumpet vine, Scarlet Runner Bean, Honeysuckles will attract most birds. The black berries of Virginia Creeper are enjoyed by Kingbirds, Flycatchers and Bluebirds.
  • Annuals and Perennials:  Leave them standing with the seed heads intact over the winter. Not only will they gather snow for moisture, they provide abundant seeds for overwintering birds. Sunflower, Cosmos, Zinnia, Aster, Snapdragon, Columbine, Cornflower are a few favourites. Monarda, Bleeding Heart and most all flowering plants provide either nectar or a source of insects for birds.

If there is a secret, it is to plant a variety. Native trees, native grasses, shrubs and flowers provide seeds, fruit, nuts, berries and flowers, which in turn attract insects to benefit birds throughout the four seasons. Most birds prefer a varied diet, so attracting them with fruits and seeds will help greatly to control insect populations. Birds eat ants, beetles, cankerworms, caterpillars, cutworms, crickets, flies(both pupae and adults), slugs, snails, sowbugs, spiders, termites, wireworms, and weevils as well as nectar, seeds, fruit, berries and nuts. 

By attracting birds to your garden you benefit fourfold. You add another dimension of interest to the garden with the presence of birds. You are rewarded by song, movement, unique bird behaviours and colours. You have a willing helper to attack insects. You are rewarded by the enhancement of trees, shrubs and flowers that create beauty all four seasons of the year.

So easy; so rewarding! 

 By Dorothy McGee

For more information Nature Conservancy – Your Winter Backyard Bird Guide

RHS – Birds – Encouraging into the Garden

National Geographic Backyard bird identifier

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