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The Homeowners Column
Attracting Birds to Your Yard
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Landscaping for wildlife for some people means an electric fence or a nicely camouflaged gun blind. The lives of birds, bunnies and bugs intermingle with ours in a wide variety of ways, both good and bad. In winter, how especially boring our yards would be without birds. Adding bird feeders and a bird bath to a yard are useful in attracting birds, but to attract a wide variety of birds careful attention to plant selections can spice up backyard bird watching.
Birds – like all animals – need food, water, shelter and a nice place to raise the kids. The more diversity in plants in a landscape the more diversity in the types of birds attracted. Select native plants. Birds appreciate open areas, ponds, shrubby areas and tall trees. Flowers can provide nectar, can attract insects which the birds eat, provide seeds and even provide nesting materials.
Large trees can provide nesting areas and fruits for food. Placement is critical with trees having large fruits such as sweetgum and hickories since they can pose problems for lawn mowers and pedestrians. Trees for a wildlife area include: blue ash, river birch, sweetgum, tuliptree, bald cypress, maples, white pine, hackberry, Canadian hemlock, oaks, hickories and walnut.
Many of the small trees for wildlife such as crabapples, serviceberries and redbud also offer beautiful flowers. Small trees to include are: crabapples, serviceberries, hawthorn, pagoda dogwood, Amur maple, hop hornbeam, sassafras, redbud and persimmon. Migrating robins devour the pea sized crabapples of my 'Snowdrift' crabapple. Serviceberries are a multi-season delight with white flowers in spring, tasty blue black fruits, purplish fall color and interesting grey bark.
Shrubs can provide birds with fruit to eat, a place to roost and nesting areas. Black chokeberry, viburnums, bayberry, sumacs, holly especially winterberry, witchhazel, red twig dogwood, spicebush and hazelnut offer diversity to a wildlife area.
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is another multi-season beauty with its white flowers in late spring, deep purple berries and purplish fall color. At 3 to 5 feet in height it fits nicely into a landscape and will tolerate dry, wet or infertile soils.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) grows to 15 feet. Its lovely greenish yellow flowers in early spring, yellow fall color and bright red berries on female plants make it an attractive shrub for moist shady areas. Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) and Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) at 8-15 feet tall are attractive year around with white flowers and beautiful yellow to maroon fall color. They are adaptable as screens, informal hedges or massed in a shrub border.
Perennial flowers of aster, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, purple coneflowers and coreopsis produce seeds for food. Grasses such as little bluestem, prairie dropseed, side oats grama and Indian grass provide birds with protection from the weather and seeds for food.
Sunflowers are common as bird seed. I have planted the seeds right from the bird seed bag to get a nice screen of sunflowers which the birds can nibble on all winter. Other annual flowers that can provide seeds are: zinnias, marigolds, bachelor buttons, calendula and cosmos. Toward the end of the growing season instead of deadheading old flowers leave old seed heads and plants standing through the winter.
Do not plant honeysuckle, privet and Autumn olive if you are anywhere near a natural area. Birds love to eat their fruits, but they also spread the seeds of these invaders into natural areas choking out the native plants.
For more information contact the
Department of Natural Resources
National Wildlife Federation
Backyards Wildlife Habitats Program
11100 Wildlife Center Drive
Reston, Va 20190-5362