Planting for Your Birds

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If you’ve put out a bird feeder or bird house and are drawing lots of birds to your yard, you’re likely feeling pretty good about your birding successes. But you shouldn’t rest on your laurels quite yet, because there’s even more you can do to make your location more attractive and amenable to the birds that visit it. More specifically, you should make sure that the surrounding area is filled with plants that will transform the habitat into one in which birds will feel completely at home.

Over time, birds have evolved alongside the native plants that grow in their area. Consequently, those native plants are much more likely to provide local birds with precisely the kind of food that they need, both in terms of size and nutritional value. Birds will also primarily use these plants as locations for nesting sites, although the plants can provide incidental cover as well for protection from the elements or predators.

Beyond the aforementioned advantages of having native plants, there are some less obvious ways in which your created habitat is better off with them. While some exotic species of plants that you may wish to plant do provide a good amount of food for birds, all of them over time will begin to crowd out the native species and wipe out the diversity to which local birds have become accustomed. Not only that, but by cultivating a landscape of native plants, you will be making it far easier for birds to naturally move around. Instead of a patchwork of differing plant life brought on by an onset of exotic species, they’ll see by and large that which they’re accustomed to seeing in a given region.

What you should plant to stay in line with the native flora of the area varies from region to region. For example, some of the possibilities in the northeastern United States are highbush blueberry and eastern red cedar, while the southeastern United States would include arrowwood viburnum and southern magnolia and the Pacific Coast would include California wax myrtle and California live oak.

It’s important to note that birds are by no means monolithic when it comes to not only what they eat, but how and when they eat it. Not all birds get their food from the fruit of a plant – many of them instead prefer the bud, flower or nectar as the source of their meal. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to pick a variety of plants that is able to offer food in all of these myriad ways. In addition, as all birds don’t follow the same feeding timeline, you’ll need to use a mix of plants that is able to offer food all year long. This means planting such things as wild cherries and mulberries for the spring, magnolia and sassafras for the fall, and hawthorn and crabapple for the winter.

There are a couple other miscellaneous yet worthwhile points to consider when planning your planting strategy. In the wild, plants usually grow in groups, so you should consider planting similarly to replicate this. Among other things, doing so promotes fertility – which in turn increases the chance of a better fruit yield. Additionally, multiple vertical layers tend to appear quite often in nature, from the canopies of tall trees all the way down to the vines growing at their base. As not all birds are equally comfortable in the different levels, it’s a good idea to incorporate as many of them as possible into your layout. That way, birds can seek out where they’re most comfortable and spend as much time there as they please.

With all this in mind, you’ll soon have a yard worthy of your beautiful birds. Happy Birding!

Written by Guest Writer Sean Peick

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