This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
As much as I love plants and all of what the act of gardening encompasses, watching my feathered friends fliting about the yard is truly one of the joys and bonuses of laboring in the garden.
Their brightly colored feathers, melodic songs, and sometimes gravity defying antics never get boring.
Anything I can do to encourage more birds in my garden is a win-win for me and the birds, and as it turns out, many of my bird-friendly efforts are pretty simple and easy to accomplish.
All birds, including hummingbirds, need the same basic elements to become attracted to our yards.
For starters, they need to feel safe and need places to nest, so trees and shrubbery are critical. When my wife and I moved into our house two years ago our yard was completely devoid of dense plantings of shrubs and trees, even though the landscape was almost 30 years old. It resembled a fairway more than a garden and I hardly ever saw any birds. They mostly hung out at the neighbor’s where there were mature trees and several feeders with suet, seed, nectar, and water.
I soon realized that luring these delightful creatures over the fence wasn’t going to happen overnight. I needed to do some serious planting.
Over the next season I worked on site development, adding to and amending the native soil, modifying rock walls, installing pavers, decks, and pergolas and improving drainage. All that took me to the end of 2020.
This year I finally got to the planting stage and managed to install over 300 shrubs, trees, and perennials. It’s still a long way from looking like a garden, but it is enough to start drawing in some of the bird population from my neighbor’s yards and the surrounding landscapes.
It will, of course, be a few years before the shrubs and trees are large enough to function as a place to hide and nest, but all the perennials are providing food and nectar in the interim, not to mention bouquets for the dining table.
In addition to safety and nesting opportunities, food and water are the other elements critical to drawing birds into our gardens. While the best source of these things is from the plants, growing either in the ground or in containers, most of us hard core gardeners will hang feeders containing seeds or suet, or in the case of hummingbirds, nectar. A shallow bird bath can function both as a drinking fountain and a bath.
While I have to confess, I didn’t get much activity on my feeders this summer, all that has changed now that we are into fall. I moved to a higher quality bird seed and now am filling it up daily. Whatever falls to the ground is consumed by the very rotund squirrels that my neighbor routinely feeds peanuts to along with the chickadees, juncos, and finches. Nuthatches, stellar jays, and an occasional flicker are now daily visitors and nothing could make me more pleased.
If you want to have more birds in your garden, then start first by increasing the diversity of plant material and then let things get a bit more on the wild side. Avoid pesticides that can kill insects (a vital source of protein), supply a source of water, and during the fall and winter supplement the natural sources of food with feeders and nectar feeders.
If you do all this you will eventually enjoy endless hours of priceless entertainment. Stay safe and keep on gardening.
Sunnyside’s next free online classes will be "Happy Houseplants" - Saturday, November 6th at 10am and "Winter Pruning For Happy Trees" - Sunday, November 7th at 11am. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.
Plantings under the pergola at the Whistling Gardener’s new yard. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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