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Green Speak

Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some.

Layer Your Landscape to Benefit Birds


My son loves birds. And it all started with a walk on a cold, snowy day during the winter of 2013-2014.

As we walked, a sound caught his attention. It was something he never heard before. It was the rat-a-tat pecking of a woodpecker. He looked around excitedly trying to pinpoint where the sound originated.

"What is that daddy?" he asked. I replied with, "It's a woodpecker, using his beak to peck away at trees to find food."

Despite the non-stop barrage of the woodpecker on some hapless snag tree, we were unable to locate it. My son's disappointment at not being able to find the woodpecker was obvious, which gave me an idea. I leaned over and told him we can put out food so the woodpecker comes right into our own backyard.

That very day we went to the local farm store and purchased a suet feeder and some suet cakes specially made for woodpeckers. That winter we had scores of birds, mostly woodpeckers and chickadees visit our backyard. My son was especially delighted when he first observed a red-headed woodpecker, an easy to identify bird who's rat-a-tat eluded him just days earlier.

This past winter of 2014-2015 we continued the tradition of hanging suet, even purchasing an additional feeder as we anticipated the constant stream of birds as last year. But, it seemed something had changed.

Our suet feeders were seldom visited during the day. In fact during the entire winter we only went through four suet cakes between the two feeders. On our wintery walks I noticed occasional scattering of feathers here and there. I immediately assumed a neighborhood cat was stalking the feeders, thus fewer birds this winter. Then on one walk we saw the true culprit.

It seems for a good amount of the winter a sharp shinned hawk had been stalking the neighborhood bird feeders. With this new information I started to look around at my neighbors yards and even my own. I noticed a significant lack of cover for smaller birds due to conventional landscaping practices. The lack of cover made our stretch of backyards easy picking for the hawk, and is I imagine why most birds avoided our suet feeders.

The above image is of a sharp shinned hawk we discovered enjoying a meal of a song bird. Note the lack of cover for smaller birds in these backyards.

In their book The Living Landscape, Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke describe the various layers in natural landscapes and the role each one plays. As I seek to provide more cover in my backyard for the future, adopting a layered landscaping approach may be the best method.

In my research efforts to design and create a layered landscape this year, several resources have been useful. My favorite is a group of webpages on Cornell's All About Birds website. Here you will find a wealth of information on creating a landscape for our feathered friends. A PDF on the All About Birds website perfectly illustrates the concept of creating layers in your landscape. You can view it HERE.

Another tool I have found on Cornell's website is YardMap. YardMap is a Citizen Science mapping tool allowing users to draw out their yard and plan or indicate habitat on their property. I am experimenting with YardMap, but so far have found it to be a lot of fun digitally laying out various components of my landscape.

Want to learn more about layered landscapes or other gardening topics? Attend our 20th annual Gardener's Day in Macomb on March 28. Carey Boehm-Corrie, owner of Boehm's Garden Center will be speaking on how we can all Get Layered in our landscapes. Plus many more topics! You can check out other classes and register online HERE.



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