Garden Guide: Gardening is for the birds
Have you been hearing sweet songs outside lately? Love is in the air for our feathered friends. After a cool winter, many birds have started their migration up north. North Carolina offers both migratory and resident birds a great place to raise young.
I have come to think bird watching and gardening go hand in hand. Plants provide food and shelter for birds, as well as landscape interest for our homes. In return, these amazing winged creatures provide insect control, cheerful music and hours of entertainment as they go about their everyday business.
Even the most haphazardly designed garden will attract birds, but with a little planning, you can make your backyard a bird haven. Start with a plan to add plants that attract wildlife. The plants that you choose need to provide birds with food or shelter or both. There are excellent resources listing plants that meet these requirements at our Center.
In choosing plants that will serve as food, try to select ones that will provide food during all seasons. Many annuals and perennials provide seeds that birds love — sunflowers are a must! Holly, crabapple and dogwood are excellent for fall and winter berries.
Other plants should be chosen because they provide shelter from enemies and a safe place to build nests. Evergreens should be incorporated into the design since they provide cover year-round, and, in many cases also provide food. Use pines, American hollies, yaupons, wax myrtles and eastern red cedars to protect songbirds from predators. Dwarf conifers are useful for people with small spaces that may still want to provide a habitat for birds.
To supplement food, especially in the winter months, place bird feeders in your yard. While it is nice to be able to observe birds as they eat, you also want to consider placing feeders near protected areas. These areas provide an escape when predators stalk the bird feeder. Fill your feeder with a mix of black oil sunflower, safflower, white millet and thistle seed. It is best to buy each component in bulk and mix your own since many pre-made mixes contain empty seed hulls.
Birdbaths and birdhouses complete the refuge. Water in a birdbath should be 2-3 inches deep and have a good perching area for birds. Position the birdbath on or near the ground and close to a protected area. Be sure to keep your birdbath clean and full of cool, fresh water. Birdhouses provide an alternative nesting area, especially for birds that nest in dead tree cavities. The nest box needs to be built to suit the bird that it is intended for, so chose an adequately sized box with a properly sized entrance hole. Depending on the species, the box will need to be placed a certain height off the ground and perhaps in a certain habitat (bluebirds like wide open areas, while some other birds like to be nestled in tangled vines). If you are considering building nest boxes, valuable information on dimensions and site is located at our Center.
Some people may think of birds as a nuisance, especially if you catch them pecking at your tomatoes or corn. Keep in mind that there are many species of birds, such as wrens and bluebirds, which eat the insects that plague our vegetable garden. Set out to accommodate birds in your vegetable garden. Think about using diversion strategies — if cedar waxwings devastate your strawberry patch, consider placing a different berry food source elsewhere in your landscape.
Birds are enjoyable little creatures to watch and they provide excellent insect control. With a plan, attracting wildlife can be easy and satisfying. Whoever said that gardening was for the birds was right! For more information, call our Center at (919) 775-5624.
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North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.