Gardening for the Birds

Amerircan Goldfinch taking in the view from the bird feeder.

Amerircan Goldfinch taking in the view from the bird feeder.

My kids tell me I'm getting old because I garden for the birds. Or maybe, they say, gardening is for the birds? Either way, they're right. I'm getting old and my garden is for the birds. If the idea of gardening for the birds is an intriguing and happy thought for you, read on for five easy steps on doing just that.

Blue Jay with peanut? Or peanut with Blue Jay?

Blue Jay with peanut? Or peanut with Blue Jay?

1. Plant for the birds.

The following list is not an exhaustive one, but it'll get you started (and give you some great plants).

Trees/Shrubs: 

  • Dogwood (berries)
  • Holly, evergreen and decidious (berries)
  • Serviceberry (berries)
  • Hawthorns (berries)
  • Viburnums (berries)
  • Confiers (shelter and seed)
  • Oaks, Maples, Birches (nesting, shelter, insects, acorns, catkins)
American Goldfinch savoring the seed.

American Goldfinch savoring the seed.

Perennials

  • Echinacea (seeds)
  • Ornamental grasses (seeds, shelter, nests)
  • Rudbeckia (seeds)
  • Sedums (tall ones for the seeds)
  • Lobelia (hummingbird)
  • Helianthus (seeds)
  • Bee balm (hummingbird)
  • Agastache (hummingbird)
  • Penstemon (hummingbird)
  • Salvias (hummingbirds)

Annuals:

Community gathering.

Community gathering.

  • Black and blue salvia (hummingbird)
  • Cosmos (seeds)
  • Zinnias (hummingbird)
  • Lantana (hummingbird)
  • Torenia (hummingbird)
  • Fuschia (hummingbird)
  • Million bells (hummingbird)

For more on plants birds enjoy, read here.

2. Include bird feeders, but not too close to windows.

To supplement the plantings, hang up bird feeders. Resist putting them close to your windows though, since over a billion birds fatally crash into windows annually. The window isn't just invisible to them, the reflection of trees and shrubs in it is an invitation to fly closer. Best case scenario is to hang the feeders in the shrubs at least three feet from the window, providing shelter and safe landing. For best placement read here.

Red-bellied woodpecker enjoying the sun and the seed.

Red-bellied woodpecker enjoying the sun and the seed.

3. Be a Messy Gardener.

Spring and fall are big clean-up times in the garden, but consider leaving forage for the birds. The tall sedums are winter food, the ornamental grasses are food and shelter, and unpruned twigs and stems make a good perch. Some birds prefer scuffling around in the leaves and mulch for food, so rake your leaves into the flower beds, which has the added benefit of improving the soil. In spring, leave clippings of ornamental grasses for nests. Finally, don't be so good at weeding. Some birds like the weed seeds. (A justification for not weeding. Who doesn't love that?)

Just a dainty sip of water, please.

Just a dainty sip of water, please.

4. Don't forget the birdbath.

Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing, and a bird bath will attract birds that don't visit the feeders. For picking out the right one, read here. If you have a cat that goes outside, place the bath with enough room for birds to fly off quickly. If possible, keep the cat indoors, or at least during feeding hours.

5. Provide Nesting Places.

Chickadees taking advantage of a blue bird box for their nest.

Chickadees taking advantage of a blue bird box for their nest.

Not all birds nest in trees and shrubs. A great way to attract a variety of birds is to provide nesting boxes. The box you buy or build will be determined by the birds you want to entice. Know how high the box should be for the species, which direction it should face (Western exposure should generally be avoided), and if it needs to be on a pole or tree. In the South, boxes should be placed no later than February, so if you missed that deadline, then use this spring to determine what and where for next year. For more information on constructing and installing nesting boxes, read here.

Okay, if you're starting to think, this is for the birds, this is way too much work, remember, sometimes it's as easy as planting a tree. One tree can provide food, shelter, insects, catkins, acorns, nesting, and shade. We gardeners think we're planting that tree for the fall color, but the birds know, it's home.   

A Flicker woodpecker on a spring day. They like to nest in the cavities of trees.

A Flicker woodpecker on a spring day. They like to nest in the cavities of trees.

Written by Cinthia Milner, OSA, garden coach, and blog writer. Information provided by Carol Dwyer, bird lover, gardener for the birds, BB Barns' annuals department (where she rocks killer containers for customers). Pictures provided by Becky Ewing, gardener, bird lover, great photographer, and one of the many favorite BB Barns' customer. 

BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Couldn't resist one more: hummingbird at feeder. Got your feeder out yet?

Couldn't resist one more: hummingbird at feeder. Got your feeder out yet?