Weeds…Good for Birds?

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Weeds are commonly thought of as more or less the bane of gardeners’ existence. They crowd out the plants you want to see, steal vital food and water from those plants, and take much time and effort to get rid of completely. But in some cases, weeds can be helpful – although not when you have to look at them every day or when the native plants are put at risk of disappearing, more or less, from that particular patch of land. Believe it or not, weeds have the potential to provide avian visitors in your yard with helpful resources.

The most common things weeds provide birds with are seeds. Most weeds produce seeds that birds enjoy and will quickly snap up. Larger weeds, such as cattails and others that grow in the marshy or swampy areas that your property may encompass, are also a great potential nesting area or source of shelter for the birds that frequent those areas. And then there are other singular weeds that are sought out by specific birds for certain things. For example, goldfinches will flock to thistle for nesting supplies (in addition to seeds), while Ruby-throated Hummingbirds won’t hesitate to seek out jewelweed for its delicious nectar.

Of course, all of these positive things can be negated if the weeds are overly aggressive and/or in an area where they are doing too much harm to the native plant population. Accordingly, some amount of care and strategy is needed to ensure that the weeds are growing as productively and unobtrusively into your yard as possible. It goes without saying that you’ll want to keep your garden as free as possible of the intruding plants so that the plants you intended to place there can flourish. But the garden is not the only place in your yard where weeds will spring up – it’s simply the most visible. As was implied by the mention of weeds growing in marshy or swampy areas, they are capable of growing virtually anywhere on your property. With that in mind, the best places to allow weeds to grow *relatively* unchecked are those that are not heavily trafficked or frequently the focus of people’s attention. Think the edges of your property, areas that could otherwise pass for a naturally occurring field, bare earth – even a garden area that’s no longer in use. If it’s a spot where the weeds won’t be doing overt harm to native plants, it’s very likely to be a good area to allow them to grow.

It’s also important to remember that there is no plant that is officially or scientifically named a “weed.” Weeds can instead be any one of a number of plants and could conceivably be any plant, depending on the circumstance. This is because the definition of “weed” derives less from what the plant in question inherently is and more from its relation to the surrounding area – and so changes from situation to situation. If a plant is growing in a place where you don’t want it to grow, then it can legitimately be called a weed. It’s as simple as that and allows for amusing situations where you could technically refer to a beautiful flower growing in an undesired spot as a weed.

Despite their *somewhat-deserved* bad reputation, weeds can actually be beneficial for birds in certain situations – so think twice before simply yanking them all up the next time you head out on a weeding expedition. Happy Birding!

Written by Guest Writer Sean Peick

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