How do you make a bird-friendly habitat? It’s easier than you might think, and more than worth the effort if you love seeing and hearing birds throughout your day.
Designing a bird garden is a fantastic way to support the native bird species in your community. It can also benefit the rest of your yard, bringing in free and organic pest control so that all of your plants can thrive.
Whether you’re working with raised garden beds on an acre of land or container plants on a small backyard patio, here’s everything that you need to know about creating a truly bird-friendly yard, including how to pick out the plants that birds like and what additional features will turn your bird garden into a haven for our feathered friends.
Look out your window on any spring or summer day, and you’ll likely see lots of birds flying past. But creating a bird garden is about so much more than just bringing more birds to your yard. Birds play a critical role in the ecosystem, and their mere presence can lend some much-needed support to the green spaces of your home and your neighborhood.
Just in case you’re not convinced, here are some of the big benefits of planting a bird-friendly yard.
Mosquitos, termites, flies, wasps, gnats, and other pesky insects are unwelcome inhabitants in most gardens. Fortunately, birds love to eat them and will happily take these invasive pests off your hands.
Different birds like different types of insects, but include bird plants that appeal to a range of species and you should end up with plenty of hungry visitors in your yard. That means fewer pests to deal with as well as an easier time avoiding the use of pesticides.
In addition to eating insects, many birds also enjoy eating the nectar from certain flowering and fruiting plants, trees, and shrubs. As they travel from plant to plant, they’ll spread pollen and help you grow an even more luscious garden. So too will the other pollinators that are attracted to these types of plants, such as bees and butterflies.
Weeds are every gardener’s enemy. And if you’d like some help getting rid of them, a bird garden is just the thing. Many common bird species eat weed seeds, including sparrows, finches, and blackbirds, so fewer weeds have a chance to ever even grow. That will help keep your yard a more weed-free space, sparing you from spending quite so much time pulling out these unwanted plants.
Birds can have a tough time finding the food, water, and shelter that they need to survive, especially in heavily urbanized areas. By filling your yard with bird plants and other features that they like—such as a birdbath and materials for bird nests—you can do your part to provide them with resources and keep their populations strong. It’s a small but impactful thing you can do to make a difference and a great way to get involved in local wildlife conservation.
This benefit might not be the most important of the bunch, but it’s worth mentioning that birds (and bird gardens) make excellent subjects for artwork. Bring out your canvas and paint watercolor flowers, watercolor birds, or practice macro photography in your own backyard with birds and plants as both the inspiration for and main features of your shots.
You don’t want to design a bird garden for just any birds. To make the biggest impact, it’s essential that you plant your garden with native bird species in mind—and that you select fruit trees, flowers, and other plants that are native to your area as well.
Do some research to determine exactly which types of birds you should be trying to attract to your garden. A simple Google search is always a good place to start, though you can also head directly to a site like ebird.org to search native birds by region.
Put together a list of the bird species most commonly found in your area, then use this as a guide to selecting fruit shrubs and other bird-friendly plants. You’ll want most, if not all, of the plants and materials in your bird garden to be specific to the native birds of your region, since not only is this better for your immediate ecosystem, but it will also prove more effective at attracting birds to your yard.
Look to your list of native bird species to narrow down your options for which plants you should grow in your bird garden, but consider the following factors as well when deciding what you want to grow.
Birds eat all sorts of trees, shrubs, herbs, and flowers. Fruit trees and other fruiting plants are among their favorites, but there’s a pretty extensive assortment to choose from. When selecting plants that birds like for your garden, make sure to choose those that provide food at varying seasons so the birds that visit will have plenty to eat throughout the year.
Shelter is another key thing to consider when choosing plants for a bird-friendly garden. Non-deciduous trees like evergreens will ensure that birds have shelter and a nesting spot for the entire year and can be planted along with vines, ground-covering shrubs, and larger broad-leaf trees.
As with the plants they like to eat, different native species also have their preferences for plants they like to use for shelter and their bird nests, so don’t forget to do your research there, too, when making your planting decisions.
Gardening 101: A Guide for Growing & Caring for Plants
We’ve covered food and shelter for birds, so now let’s talk water.
Putting out water will attract more birds to your garden. It will also do your native bird population a big favor, providing them with a reliable source for drinking and bathing. Just be sure to keep any water feature clean and filled, and replace the water more often on hot days so that the birds have a refreshing place to cool off.
Types of water features that you can put in your garden for birds include:
Birds are expert builders, but sometimes they need some help finding materials. And since you’ll be providing nesting sites in your bird garden, why not sweeten the deal by supplying nesting materials, too?
Things you can provide:
Things you should avoid:
Place the nesting materials in an accessible pile or in a hanging mesh bag or berry basket. You can also hide nesting materials in various tree crevices for your garden visitors to find.
The fruit plants, flowers, trees, shrubs, and herbs that you plant for the birds are also going to attract some uninvited pests. It’s the nature of gardening, of course, and something that’s impossible to avoid. How you respond to these pests is important, though, and you want to be careful not to use any insecticides in your garden or to include plants that have been sprayed with them.
Sadly, insecticides are made with dozens of ingredients that can be fatal to birds. They also kill off bird food sources and disrupt their natural behaviors. This is particularly true of neonicotinoids, which are the most common types of insecticide used today.
Keep birds fed, happy, and safe by avoiding insecticide use in your yard and by avoiding plants from nurseries and big box stores (Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, etc.) that have likely been grown with insecticides. Instead, purchase your plants from local nurseries that can guarantee they don’t use harmful insecticides; or better yet, grow your plants from seed.
Remember, birds themselves are a great method of pest control in your yard, so if you plant a thriving bird garden, you should be good to go.
However, if you absolutely must use other methods, you’ll want to stick to pest remedies that don’t pose as much harm to birds as neonicotinoids and related insecticides. This includes nematodes, pyrethrum, and insecticidal soaps and oils. DIY methods like vinegar and corn gluten meal could also be effective.
It may seem like a no-brainer that you should include a bird feeder in your garden, but it’s actually not necessary during the parts of the year when your garden is in full bloom.
In the spring and summer, the birds that visit your garden should have a wealth of insects to eat, plus the fruit, nectar, and seeds from your garden flower and fruit plants. As mentioned in a previous section, you’ll also want to make a point to include plants that produce food for birds in the cooler seasons. But if you can’t—or if your plants are bare or simply not producing enough of a food supply—then a bird feeder could be appropriate during the fall and winter months.
There are a few more tips to consider as you design a serene and supportive garden for your neighborhood birds:
Be a friend to the birds, and the birds will be a friend right back. Start making plans now for your bird-friendly garden, and create a haven for birds that they will return to again and again.
How to Spruce Up Your Garden On a Budget
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