Gardening for Birds and Stewardship

With Spring coming more people than normal will begin to landscape their yard and for many gardening will become a lifelong love. Now God may care for the sparrow but so should we. There are a few things we can do to improve our backyard biodiversity and support ecology as good stewards of the land.

The first is obviously something that is a long game and that’s successional landscapes. That’s plenty trees and larger woody shrubs now so that others, including wildlife can benefit from them in a decade and even a century from now. There are a bunch of written and unwritten rules about this such as how close to road and power lines you can plant not to mention various HOA regulations to things of how it affects home insurance. You obviously want the write tree for the right spot. You don’t want a live oak 10 feet from your house. But native oaks come in many sizes. Running oaks are max out at just a few feet tall. It’s beneficial to plant from several genre and families. Again most of this is done by envisioning the gardens potential down the road.

A more immediate thing is to plant native plants. Outside of the issues with invasive plants pushing out natives and undermining ecological benefits. A big reason to plant natives is because they host native insects which means caterpillars. Even the chicks of songbirds get the majority of their nutrition and calories from vertebrates. Many chicks can eat up to 40+ caterpillars a day. So not using pesticides helps the birds. While selecting plants also consider plants with fruits, seed heads or flower heads that birds eat. Consider plants that are early spring bloomers or blooms throughout winter that birds can snack from.

You can also use bird feeders. When selecting bird food it’s important to consider your native birds or migratory birds. Different birds eat different foods. Tiny birds want tiny seeds and some birds, like blackbirds, really like dried fruit. Look for dried fruit marketed for birds. Even berries that maybe you bought and did not finish thst you just don’t want can go outside for birds. Keep bird feeders up high if possible and away from places predators like cats can hide and leap from. Pay attention to what they eat. Maybe only fill it half way to avoid waste or molding fruits. Hang up different types to feed a wider range of birds . If you can handle it mealworms can be beneficial as well. You can buy dried mealworms and soak them over night and spread them about in the morning in your garden on the ground or on bird tables.

Birdhouses are also beneficial. You can buy generalized ones but it’s often cheaper and a lot of fun to build them. Look up the native birds you want to invite to your yard and build a birdhouse to attract them. Some birds prefer taller birdhouses. Some birds want houses with multiple entries. Some want open birdhouses and some want enclosed ones. A owl for example will be attracted to a birdhouse that’s very different from a cardinal. Look up the designs they need and what types of trees and height they prefer. Making your own can also become a family activity. They can be painted on the outside but you don’t want to paint on the inside or use treated lumber. Use rot resistant wood and not toxic treated wood. Make sure the entry hole is the right size too. It can also be fun to spurge on things like outdoor cameras to spy on them. It’s also a great way to introduce others, including kids to birdwatching. From a porch or a bench outside.

Lastly water feature also obviously attracts wildlife.

Does anyone have any favorite bird species they want to attract to their yards? Anyone into building animal houses or bird watching? If there is a specific native species you are interested in you can potentially do these things to attract them to your yard.

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Great post! I don’t have birdhouses. I had a bat house once (bats eat lots of mosquitoes), but it fell down and never had any tenants anyway. I don’t have bird feeders because they attract rats, mice, etc. I do have raspberry plants where birds can grab a snack. And I don’t use anything non-organic on the yard and the birds appreciate that. Birds seem to like my yard.

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I’ve planted a lot of native blueberry shrubs along creeks ofer the last decade and I often see the birds eating from them. I’ve helped spread the greenbrier vines also, another native that a lot of birds eat from. I guide the vines towards dying woody shrubs and help wrap them around it to create lots of them.

Bats are really cool too. I helped with a eco garden a while back to attract mosquitoes. The bay houses were about 20 feet up on a slash pine. We planted a bunch of native nocturnal blooming and scented flowers. It drew in a bunch of moths , hundreds of moths which drew in the bats.

The whole evolutionary thoughts behind nocturnal floral flowers is pretty neat. They think that the primary drive despite less pollinators at night was not merely to guide insects towards the plant but was a byproduct of air pressure. The colder nighttime air is more dense making the scents harder to work through at night. Many of the flowers also create mini climates within where they are warmer inside than outside so insects go to them for warmth. Not to mention the majority are lighter colored so it reflects more light and is easier to find.

I Know contrary to what many believe birdhouse better serve the majority of birds by not having a perch outside of the hole. It gives predators a better place to rest and work from. It’s also bad to combine birdhouse with feeders. The feeders draw a lot more birds and things like squirrels to the house making it more stressful on the hatchlings and parents.

Some birds build their houses with mud and ponds with a bog around it and exposed mud will also help them out.

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What kind do you recommend? Can you get them from Gurney’s or Henry Fields?

Really neat.
I’d like to bring back some of the wild turkeys we had around our house–about 40-50 would trudge through the snow, but they usually went past us, to the manure spread on farms a few hundred yards away. I think the coyotes have decimated them, so we’re not seeing as many. We also have to be careful how much corn and other feed we put out, so as not to attract bears. We’ve not seen any on our property, though I’ve seen scat, and they are pretty pesky a few miles away from us, knocking down feeders.

I do see the big pileated woodpeckers (probably the size of a large pigeon or a bantam rooster) sometimes near the suet blocks, and enjoy watching them flit around as nimbly as the smaller ones.
Thanks.

We are hopefully redoing our front yard this spring and want to do native plants for sure!

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The blueberries i used were from ones I collected seeds and cuttings from. I’m not sure what species of blueberries is native to your area. We have like 5-6 species here. Maybe more. Where I live the wild turkeys really like white oaks and even pine buds and some evergreen ferns. In late winter and spring they eat red acorns and essentially any small animals from little lizards to insects. Since they often sleep in trees they like areas with limbs they fly up to easily and rest.

The local library may have wildlife management books or maybe the local wildlife federation chapter has some info on it. The local hunting groups may also have a lot of info since they hunt them. Turkeys actually really vary in different places.

One day in the next few years I actually plan on getting a Turkey as a pet lol. Use to have one as a kid and really liked it. Now all I have is my cats. But soon I’ll have a rabbit, Turkey and probably another rooster and dog xd. Turkeys and roosters will actually be really affectionate and like to be petted and will wrap their claws around your finger and hold onto it.

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It’s definitely the only way I do it now. I’ll toss in some nonnative stuff , especially edible plants like carrots or beets and so on. But almost everything is native. Gardening for wildlife is a lot of fun. Plus you can use them in any design plan. They have a Japanese garden a few hours north of me that was done with almost all native plants I hope to see. Been looking at pond designs too and listening to a bunch of podcasts on them. I’m lucky where I currently am because it already has a lot of trees that have been here 100+ years and so I can begin new ones but still have the forest feel.

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Growing up, my dad was really into attracting cardinals and goldfinches. We had a big picture window in the dining room that faced the bird feeders. My dad also had epic battles of wits with the squirrel raiders, which provided hours of entertainment.

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The benefit of bushes and trees depends on the landscape. They are beneficial in open landscapes and places dominated by ‘green deserts’ (lawns). In forested landscapes, making openings and slowing succession within them produces suitable habitat for more species.

One danger in creating ‘intermediate’ landscapes (open areas and many patches of trees and bushes) is that these are good for the most common species but less beneficial for habitat specialists. The number of species and individuals is higher in these intermediate landscapes, which is good for a human who wants to see lots of birds. The other side of the story is that rare habitat specialists become even more rare. This leads to homogenisation of faunas within large regions. You can see lots of birds but they are the same species everywhere.

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Obviously how you approach the landscape depends on the environment you are in. But that’s part of the reason why I mention native plants. These plants will be naturally occurring to that area and drive up biodiversity. Even with specialists. You’re not only going to see native birds but native insects, native spiders, native amphibians, native reptiles and so on. I mentioned leaving things like seed heads throughout winter. This means you’ll be leaving the woods growth up and even the herbaceous hardened stalks which is a great place for bees and others to winter in.

The combination of native plants and no pesticides means that there will be host plants there for the native insects including those who are specialists. So every bird species will have vertebrates there to eat along with every reptile species and things like frogs. All have more food to eat. Even the wasps and predatory insects and spiders will have more food to eat. By adding the native fruiting plants , such as the greenbrier I mentioned with dozens of bird species eat from, and native blueberries which dozens of bird species eat from you are also opening the door up for all the fruit eating birds.

If the area is already a woodland and your house is there you can still be fairly certain like most yards there is no successional plan. No saplings really , and no understory or ground cover. You can add spring ephemerals, shrubs , ferns, and tons of ground cover that is shade loving. Allow saplings to grow and plant a few other native trees you want.

A big part of the native plant movement is not just using native plants but considering natural history and archetypal landscapes. Some areas you’ll have more wildflowers , including self seeding annuals, than you’ll have trees or shrubs. Some areas will be woodlands. But either way in the process of trying to encourage even select bird species you’ll be creating an environment to attract dozens and dozens of species. Some places that are only an acre with native plants have seen a few hundred bird species throughout the year show up.

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Other ways to help wild birds include the following:

Keep your cats inside! Every year cats kill many wild birds, even when they aren’t hungry. Besides, inside cats live longer, healthier lives.

Don’t feed hummingbirds sugar water. It isn’t nutritionally equivalent to their natural diet of nectar.

Don’t take your kids to the lake to feed bread to the ducks. Bread isn’t good for ducks. Teach children that they can have a good time by simply observing wildlife.

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We have some more like 15-20. They’ve been there for a few decades.

Get a big enough boat and you can have two of each pet … just in case. :wink:

Great idea for a thread! I was never particularly interested in gardens until I started keeping birds in outdoor aviaries. Built my first in the summer after my first year of teaching. Built two more larger ones the next summer. Then I started planting them for the birds. I was imaging building a still larger one when it occurred to me I could take my research of planting for birds outside and skip the aviaries altogether. Turns out we live right on a natural flyway along the creek that heads to the bay from the UC campus right along our northern border. Of course once I started paying attention to the plants instead of birds I became as or more entranced by them than I had been by my exotic finches and small birds.

The other reason I wasn’t so interested in gardens is I’d only seen ones laid out in regimented symmetry or else styled to represent rooms in a house. Then I went on a Garden Conservancy open day visit to this garden. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do in my spare time. As in his garden I’ve indulged my interest in plant forms from all over the world but in combination with the trees and plants which birds and beneficial insects favor, many of them native. The other idea I got from his garden was using hardscape to limit the amount of the garden actually planted because we live in drought prone California and water is scarce. When you think about it you realize birds and insects make a good living in all manner of natural landscapes. Every square inch doesn’t need to be planted to create a virtual oasis from their point of view. But you need to plant in layers and provide lots of verge areas where plants of different heights abut. Birds like open areas better when there are lots of more sheltered adjoining areas where they can feel safe.

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Quercus virginiana or a oak tree that is alive?

Out here we call Q. agrifolia “Coast Live Oak”. I imagine every ‘live’ oak is one that isn’t deciduous. There are a number of these in the park behind us and my biggest complaint is the number of seedlings that come up everywhere. You have to get them out ASAP. Even as a new seedling they have a pretty good grip in the soil. So you need a firm grip and steady pressure. But I see so many in the neighbor hood a couple to several feet tall that will be a huge job remove. The school down the street planted a row of ornamental cherries out front which is just infested with them. They will be higher than those cherries in no time. I think squirrels or birds must be planting some of their acorns because I get them in pots even.

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I got into birds after gardening. It started with landscape design and that lead to caring about the right plant in the right place and layers and begin to care native plants and preserving them which lead to host plants and native insects which bleed into general ecology which lead to birds.

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Thanks for this great reminder to help biodiversity in our own back yards. As an ornithologist by career, I deeply admire birds and care about their wellbeing. I built over 300 nestboxes which I monitor annually (mostly bluebirds and tree swallows use them), but I do so as part of my research. My own hilarious claim to fame (such as it is), is that I’ve touched more Northern Flickers than anyone else on the planet :wink: Banded about 12,000 of them over the course of 18 years. So…if you ever want to know something about flickers just ask… Flickers are one of the few woodpeckers that will use nestboxes, but they have to be deep enough.

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That’s really cool. I will look them up. The Picidae family is one of the ones I want to learn more about. I really like the Pileated Woodpecker. As a kid I really liked Woody Woodpecker. My grandparents use to have tapes and tapes of it. But it’s okay something I’ve recently got into. I figured I should start learning them now so I’m 30 years when I’m perhaps hiking far less I can still find connection by sitting in a park with binoculars. Though I also enjoy using them to spy on dragonflies and so on.

That’s wonderful. Birding is an enjoyable pastime that is accessible to almost anyone, whether one wants to just enjoy birds in the backyard or go on longer hikes into the wilderness. Woodpeckers are one of the most fascinating groups of birds for me. And they are “keystone” species because they excavate cavities in trees that many other species of birds and mammals depend on for nesting. So woodpeckers themselves help to maintain biodiversity in ecosystems.

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Despite it actually being Alabama’s state bird I’ve not seen one. Really pretty. Could definitely trigger Trypophobia in some of the people I know. Seems like the link I was looking at was suggesting looking in poison Ivy full forests with plenty of older softer dead trees.

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