Building a Paradise for Birds

Photos by: Melanie McCabe

Native or indigenous plants provide seasonal habitat benefits to wildlife that non-native plants cannot. An added bonus to native plants is that they adapt well to drought and provide low-maintenance gardening. They require little water once established and need little or no fertilizer. Birds need shelter, food, water and a place to raise their young, so they find a native garden particularly attractive for nesting.

Birds need trees and shrubs for cover, nesting and perching. Provide levels of vegetation starting with large trees, secondary trees, shrubs and ground cover. Examples of native tall deciduous trees Red Maple (Acer rubrum), River Birch (Betula nigra), and Oaks (Quercus).

Pin Oak (Quercus Palustris)
Strong, pyramidal growing habit, reaching heights of 15-20′ with in ten years and a mature height of 60-70′. An excellent shade tree for city conditions.

Native evergreen trees Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), White Pine (Pinus strobes), Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Medium native trees such as Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) , Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) and American Holly (Ilex opaca). Native shrubs such as Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), Red Osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Inkberry (Ilex glabra), and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Low vegetation can be provided by native perennials and grasses.  The planting of one native dogwood can feed over a hundred species of wildlife.

Food sources are provided by native seed setting perennials such as Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Narrow Leaved Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)and ornamental native grasses such as Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Fruits are provided by berry producing sources such as Serviceberry, Viburnums, Hollies, Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).

‘Berkeley’ Highbush Blueberry

Produces sweet, large fruit throughout the summer and colorful branches will provide interest in the winter.

‘Blueray’ Highbush Blueberry
Produces masses of large, light blue berries. Red and orange foliage dominates through fall.

Birds can be supplied with feeding stations of black oil sunflower seed, which is the preferred seed of over 50 species of songbird. Thistle seed will attract the American Goldfinch and Morning Doves. Suet will attract wrens, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. Water can be provided by a birdbath or fountain.
Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping or flowing water. A pond will attract a diverse species of birds.  Even a simple terra cotta saucer full of fresh water will be welcomed by your feathered friends.

Cover can also be provided by placing nesting boxes in your habitat to attract bluebirds, wrens, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadee. The box will be used in spring and summer as nesting sites. The species of bird attracted will depend on the placement of the box. In winter the box will be used as a roosting box.

Remember no matter what size your property, you can enjoy nature outside your window. Try to landscape your habitat so that you can attract the particular wildlife that interests you. Your habitat will bring you many every day simple pleasures.

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