Try attracting birds to your garden

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  12/24/2008 1:07:18 AM

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Get it Growing For 01/23/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

The presence of birds is almost universally welcome among gardeners. Their contribution of movement, color, sounds and pest control are unique and desirable. 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, water and food.

Although food and water are often provided, shelter and nesting sites should not be overlooked. 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 can provide a place for birds to nest, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing them frequently at close range and have the advantage of allies in the control of insects.

A number of birds will nest in trees in the landscape. Within the same habitat each bird 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. The use of various-sized shrubs, small trees and larger trees planted in masses or groups will achieve this in a landscape design.

Shelter for nesting may also be provided with birdhouses or bird boxes. These manmade structures, if properly done to specific dimensions and placed in the right location, 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, woodpeckers, 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, and then be patient. A brand new house may be viewed at first with suspicion. Once it’s weathered a bit, birds are more likely to accept it. Now would be a good time to put up bird houses since they would have some time to weather before birds start to use them this spring.

Be sure your landscape includes plants that produce fruit birds will eat – such as hollies, cherry laurel and hawthorns – wherever possible. Putting out bird feeders, however, is another option becoming increasingly popular as a means of attracting birds into the landscape.

You can purchase seeds by individual varieties or in mixed form. What and how you buy it will depend on a number of factors, such as your bird-feeding goals, feed costs and availability.

Many of the seeds commonly found in inexpensive commercial mixes, such as wheat, milo, peanut hearts, hulled oats and rice are relatively unattractive to most birds. You will generally attract more birds with preferred seeds. Thistle seeds, hulled sunflower seeds and finely cracked corn are useful for attracting particular species. Overall, small, black, oil-type sunflower seeds and white proso millet give the most for your bird-feeding dollar.

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. Several commercial watering trays are available, but you can use almost any shallow container so they can drink and bathe.

For many people, attracting hummingbirds is as easy as hanging a feeder, but because many hummingbirds are not accustomed to using feeders, that is not always successful. Many people 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 with bright red parts are especially useful for enticing the fast-flying, tiny birds. The best formula for feeders should approximate natural nectar. A good, simple formula can be made at home by dissolving 1 part of cane sugar in 4 parts of boiling water. Allow the sugar syrup to cool before filling feeders.

Place feeders high enough so domestic cats cannot attack the birds while they are feeding, and place them near windows for maximum viewing pleasure. Feeders are most effective when located within view of flowers that attract hummingbirds.

If you’d like to learn more about birds and how to invite them into your landscape, an excellent book is “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. It includes a section on creating beneficial garden habitats (shelter, water, food, etc.), a section on planning for all seasons, a bird dictionary, a plant dictionary and a resource section, plus more than 300 full-color photographs.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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