Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 8/27/2005 2:57:03 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Birds can contribute wonderful, unique and desirable things to your landscape such as movement, color, sounds and pest control. Although certain birds can damage some fruits and vegetables, the presence of birds is almost universally welcomed by gardeners.
Gardeners can even go so far as to design and plant landscapes that are particularly attractive to birds. Some people are motivated to do so by the increasing loss of natural habitat facing many bird species.
So what can we do to encourage birds to live in our landscapes? The primary features the environment must provide to invite birds into the landscape include shelter, nesting sites, food and water.
Although people often provide food and water for birds, shelter and nesting sites should not be overlooked either. Difficulty in finding natural shelter near the food and water sources you supply may tempt birds to look elsewhere for a more promising environment. If you provide a place for birds to nest, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing them frequently at close range and the advantage of allies in the control of insects.
Each species of birds shows a strong preference for the specific elevation at which it feeds and nests. This is apparent in natural forests where some birds sing and feed in the high canopy level but nest in the lower canopy. Others may feed on the ground, nest in shrubs and sing from the highest trees. These bird movements demonstrate that a multilevel planting design is important.
Adding levels to a plant community increases surface area by creating more leaves, stems, nooks and crannies on which birds can nest, feed and sing. The use of various sizes of shrubs and small as well as larger trees planted in masses or groups will achieve this in a landscape design.
Shelter for nesting also may be provided with birdhouses or bird boxes. These human-made structures, if properly done to specific dimensions and located in the right spot, can provide nesting sites for birds that would find suitable sites rare in urban areas. Birds that nest in the cavities of dead trees, for instance, will find few sites available, since dead trees are quickly removed from urban landscapes. Bird houses would be used by birds such as the purple martin, house finch, woodpecker, robin and Eastern bluebird, to name a few.
If birds ignore the houses you’ve installed for them, make sure you have done everything correctly on the dimensions and location of the house. Then be patient.
A brand-new house may be viewed at first with suspicion. But once it’s weathered a bit, birds are more likely to accept it. Fall would be a good time to put up birdhouses, since they would have some time to weather before the birds start to use them next spring.
You also need to include plants in your landscape that produce fruit the birds will eat, such as hollies, cherry laurel and hawthorns, wherever possible. Or putting out bird feeders is another option for attracting birds into the landscape.
When setting up a feeding station, be sure you are willing to make a commitment to maintain a dependable food supply and to keep the health and safety of the birds in mind. Place bird feeders high enough so that domestic cats cannot attack the birds while they are feeding, and place them near windows for maximum viewing pleasure.
Attracting hummingbirds can be as easy as hanging a feeder, but because many hummingbirds are not accustomed to using feeders, it is not always successful. Many gardeners have found that planting a garden full of hummingbird-attracting plants – in addition to maintaining feeders – is a surefire method for successfully attracting hummers. Feeders are most effective when located within view of flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Water is not food, but it can make a feeding station more attractive. By providing water (which birds use for both drinking and bathing) you may encourage birds to stay in your yard. Many commercial bird baths are available, but you can use almost any shallow container that would allow birds to drink and/or bathe.
If you’d like to learn more about birds and how to invite them into your landscape, I recommend the book Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens (Taylor Publishing; $24.95) by Thomas Pope, Neil Odenwald and Charles Fryling. It is a handbook/identification guide geared specifically to our region, as well as one designed to tell readers how to create their own gardens to attract birds, especially songbirds
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.