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Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat

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Kris Wetherbee
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Creating a bird-friendly environment is simply a matter of providing the creature comforts we all crave: food, protective cover, and a cozy spot for raising a family.

A diversity of trees, shrubs, and other plants, as well as ground covers and vines, offers a complete package for backyard bird habitation. Invite birds into your backyard and start enjoying a front-row view of nature’s winged wonders.

Food

Understanding a bird’s preferences will help you determine which plants to grow. Different plants will provide for different needs, whether that bounty is in the form of seeds, fruits, nuts, or nectar, as well as for a host of plant-munching caterpillars and insects. A garden filled with a mixture of plants producing flowers, seeds, berries, and nuts will always attract the largest number and variety of birds.

  • For example, seed-eating birds, including goldfinches, chickadees, and towhees, will seek out seed heads from an assortment of flowering plants and ornamental grasses. Any daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, asters, and black–eyed Susans, in addition to rudbeckias, zinnias, and echinaceas, would be good choices.
  • Finches, sparrows, and nuthatches are a few of the birds that will flock to marigolds, cosmos, coreopsis, goldenrod, phlox, and a wide selection of salvias.
  • Hummingbirds are happy with nectar from bee balm, geraniums, veronicas, delphiniums, and penstemons.

Remember, too, that birds are attracted to seasonal food. They will stay longer in your garden if it contains plants that flower or fruit at different times of the year.

  • For example, hollies and roses provide winter fruit.
  • Serviceberries and chokecherries offer late–spring berries.
  • Blueberries and mulberries bear summer fruit.
  • Honeysuckle and pyracantha round out the fruit season in the fall.

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Shelter

Plants that provide shelter—a safe haven from predators, protective cover from harsh weather, or a cozy spot, whether to nest or just settle in for the night—appeal to just about any bird, regardless of food preference. But a plant that provides food and shelter says, “Come on in.”

  • Pine trees provide evergreen shelter enjoyed by many birds as well as nourishing pine seeds favored by chickadees.
  • Low-growing junipers not only hide birds from imminent danger, but also offer an insect buffet for ground–insect feeders such as wrens, towhees, and juncos, in addition to providing a bevy of berries for titmice and waxwings.
  • Some vines and shrubs (like Virginia creeper, clematis, service berry, and privet) are also multifunctional plants. Towhees, larks, and sparrows enjoy the seed heads of their spent flowers, while fruit-eating birds such as robins, thrushes, and tanagers gorge on their berries. These vines and shrubs also provide a safe haven.

As you develop your garden, consider grouping your plants in layers. You’ll be creating a multilevel habitat of food and shelter for a variety of birds, whether they feed on the ground, in trees and bushes, or in the air.

  • Include fruit-bearing shrubs, deciduous trees, and evergreens of all heights in your upper layers.
  • At ground level, consider planting ground covers as well as petite perennials and annuals.
  • Fill the layers in between with perennials, annuals, ornamental grasses, and low-growing shrubs.

(See Related Articles above for a list of great Shrubs and Trees for Birds.)

When it all comes together, your garden just may become a bird’s favorite place to be!

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