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September 23rd, 2014
A backyard garden for you and your birds

Q3. What are three common basics of living that birds share with humans? (P14)

A backyard garden for you and your birds

By Beth Parker

Nothing is more refreshing in the morning than waking up to the sound of birds singing and watching them through your window or on your balcony while having breakfast. You wonder about what kind of bird has chosen your particular place - that jaunty Cardinal with his brilliant red feathers or the cheeky Hummingbird pushing another out of its way to sip the nectar of a petunia.

As our cities grow, it’s more important than ever to help our birds adapt to new living conditions (which, remarkably, many do!). Often all it takes is rethinking our garden plans to add the right plants, shrubs and a simple bird feeder.

Like all of us, birds need a place to rest, food and water to nourish their bodies, and a safe nook to call home. Think about how you’re going to attract some of your favourite birds to your backyard this year with tasty treats and by creating an inviting place for them to hide and even nest.

A place to play & hide

All birds need a place to land, play and if they wish, hide from predators. In your backyard, this could be an area where there are mature trees or at least dense shrubs and some “wildness”. The best way to create this is to reserve a 3-4 foot width at the back of your yard where there are older bushes and perhaps a pile of dead branches. Before you know it, the birds will be dropping by to visit.

Six to eight foot Junipers are perfect for Robins, Warblers, and Catbirds. If there is a tall Maple tree or Oak in your yard, they will attract Orioles, Tanagers and the Redeyed Vireo because they love the safety of the high upper canopy.

Birds also love tall grasses such as Flame Grass and Blue Oat, and herbaceous perennials. These provide nesting materials, seeds for ground feeders such as Sparrows and Juncos, and lots of places for insects to hide for “insect lovers” like Warblers.

Feeding your birds

Trees and shrubs that produce fruit (or berries) near or amidst evergreens provide the best natural food for your birds. They are also low maintenance. They’ll attract birds with fragrant blossoms in the spring, and berries in the fall and winter. Dogwoods, Sumacs, Viburnums and Rugosas are very popular with birds of all kinds. Most birds love the Red Twig Dogwood because of its many dense branches that provide a good hiding place while they catch flies and other flying insects.

Vines are also great for attracting birds and most bear tasty fruit. Hummingbirds, and even Orioles, will feast on the blooms of the Honeysuckle vine.

There are some special treats you can plant that birds love. Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and many other birds will devour the bright orange/red Mountain Ash berries. All birds love cherries, sweet, sour and chokeberry.Seed-bearing perennials like Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans attract some of our favourite birds that search for food on the ground.

Fussy Appetites

Just like us, birds have their favourite foods, so to attract a certain bird that you like, consult with a wild bird feeding store on the right seed mixture. Chickadees, for example, love seeds mixed with suit (fat), Blue Jays love sunflower seeds and peanuts and will pick them out and discard the other seeds! But Orioles eat insects and nectar. So a good way to attract Orioles is to place half an orange on a tree branch or purchase specific hanging feeding cups that hold nectar (use grape jelly – a favourite!)

A quiet place to nest

Every wondered why a bird chose your backyard, even your balcony planter, as the place to build a nest? Or do you want to see if you can encourage birds to nest nearby?

The first thing to remember is that different birds prefer different nesting conditions. All, however, need a secluded spot where there is less noise or chance of being disturbed by squirrels, predators, and young children.

Evergreens such as Junipers, Spruces, and Pines are favoured by many birds. The dense foliage of Spruce, Pine, Fir, Larch and Hemlock provide secure nesting sites and an ample supply of seeds from their varied cones. Seed-eating birds such as Redpolls, Pine Siskin and Goldfinch love the White Birch tree, especially during the winter.

Birds like to hide inside tangled branches. Robins will nest in a clump of Clematis - Indigo Buntings prefer Boston Ivy.

Planting your garden for you and your guests

When planting your garden this year, have a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year, spring, summer and fall, with seeds that stay on the branches through the winter. This way, your visiting birds will have food for 12 months of the year!

Although annuals aren’t seed-bearing (because smart gardeners pinch off the blooms), their fragrance and bright colours attract birds, and of course, insects. Many annuals are loaded with lovely sweet nectar. Cone shaped annuals such as Lavertera, Petunias, Nicotiana and Snapdragons are popular with Hummingbirds, who make about 1,000 trips a day to blooms in order to find nectar to eat.

Weeds might not be our friends but the seeds of chickweed, ragweed, knotweed, pigweed, lamb’s quarters and crabgrass are some of the main natural food sources for many backyard birds like Juncos. Goldfinches for example, will eat up all your dandelion seeds!

Keep it wild

Most importantly, birds don’t want a manicured garden. This is especially important near the end of the season when we’re all tempted to rake up our garden mess. Keep a brush pile at the back of your yard and leave that small dead tree in the corner if it’s not too much of an eyesore. Your feathered friends will love it, especially if you hang a feeder from one of its branches. These “wilder” elements provide shelter as well as a breeding ground for the tasty insects. You may find that Chickadees, Wrens, Woodpeckers, or even an Owl might move in and make it their home.

You also want to keep your garden as natural as possible. With healthy plants that attract hungry birds, there will be enough food for the birds and your insects will be kept under control.

Recommended Resource

Stokes Bird Gardening Book

This is an excellent resource for advice, tips, and ideas on how to turn your backyard into a bird and wildlife-friendly place. The Stokes include four chapters on shrubs, trees, vines, and flowers which attract birds, as well as guiding you through planning a hummingbird garden. Full of ideas and suggestions, this book explores lawn alternatives, encouraging "good weeds" in your yard, how to provide water to attract wildlife and more.

Specific plants for specific birds

Warblers, Orioles: Fruit producing trees and shrubs.

Kingbirds, Catbirds, Waxwings, Woodpeckers: red twig dogwood

Cedar Waxwings, Cardinals, Robins, Brown Thrashers: burning bush

Blue and Grey Jays, Waxwings, Robins, Redstarts,

Thrashers: Oregon grape

Migrating Warblers love the fragrance of the hardy hawthorn tree and in the fall, these tress are a magnet for Cedar Waxwings and Robins.

Thrushes, Woodpeckers, Warblers. Virginia creeper vines

Horned Lark, Meadowlark, Butings, Bobolink: thistles, goldenrod and ragweed

Humming Birds, Orioles: honey suckle vines, bee balm, columbine

All season plants

Spring: columbine, bleeding heart

Summer: cosmos, bee balm, day lily

Mid-August to September: purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan and other rudbeckia, daisy, phlox

Autumn: sedum, asters, impatiens, petunias and zinnias


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