If you love birds, be sure to read “Beauty Takes Flight’ in the February issue of Southern Living. It’s the story of Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary, a beautiful garden specifically designed for birds right in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina. Here are some tricks I learned there to help you, the enlightened bird-watcher, attract these feathered friends to your garden.
Birds have three main requirements if you want them to visit or reside in your garden — food, water, and plants that supply shelter and nesting sites.
Many birds subsist on insects and spiders, but I’m not going to waste my time telling you how to get more of those in your garden, because you wouldn’t do it anyway. Fortunately, birds also like seeds, nuts, flower nectar, berries, and suet. (Personally, I feel suet goes especially well with a full-bodied Cabernet, but I serve suet only in winter, because when the temperature rises above 70 degrees, it melts all over my treasured Ming Dynasty china and yellow Graceland Naugahyde.)
There’s all sorts of birdseed available, but save yourself some trouble. Almost all the common songbirds we enjoy prefer sunflower seeds above all others, no matter if they’re the black-striped, gray-striped, or oil type. Yeah, goldfinches also like thistle seed and mourning doves also like millet, but if you watch birds eat, a lot of them just scratch other seeds out of the way to get to the sunflower seed. Unfortunately, sunflower seeds will draw any loathsome squirrels in the area to your feeder like congressmen to PAC money. So either buy a “squirrel-proof” feeder (if there is such a thing) or resign yourself to the fact that half your seed will go to no-account rodents whose only apparent purpose in life is to dash back-and-forth in front of the car until we grow tired of this game and decide to run them over. Crows really appreciate the road-kill, so if you like crows, put out sunflower seeds for the squirrels.
You can scatter seed on the ground or dispense it in bird feeders. To attract a large variety of birds, put out several types of feeders, like a plastic tubed one or one with a peaked wooden roof. Put them in several different locations and high enough off the ground so that cats can’t dine on the birdies. Tree branches that serve as perches above the feeder will greatly increase traffic. Restock the feeders year-round to attract migratory birds as well as those that hang around all year.
Many ornamental trees and shrubs with colorful fruits and berries provide birds with food. Here are some avian favorites:
- Grape holly
- Mountain ash
- Red cedar
- Wax myrtle
Feed me! Feed me! Newly hatched chicks crave protein they need in order to grow. So if you really want action around your feeder in springtime, put out a bowl filled with mealworms. Yes, mealworms. You can get these from a pet store. Even birds that normally prefer seeds, insects, or berries eagerly opt for mealworms when they’re raising their young.
Birds need water for drinking and bathing. The sound of splashing water, either from a waterfall or fountain, proves an irresistible lure. But not just any water will do. It needs to be fresh (changed often) and shallow — no more than 2 to 3 inches deep. Birdbaths should increase in depth very gradually, so that water near the edge is no more than an inch deep. If you like your birdbaths to function as snack bars for cats, place the basin flat on the ground near some bushes. Otherwise, place the basin out in the open atop a pedestal at least 3 feet high.
Nesting and Shelter
I’m not going to go how to choose a birdhouse here, because there are so many different types. Just make sure that the type you pick is amenable to the birds you want to attract. For example, bluebird houses need to be constructed with very specific dimensions or they won’t work. For more info on birdhouses, consult the birdbrains at your local chapter of the National Audubon Society (just kidding guys).
Other than birdhouses, the other shelter you need to provide comes from trees and shrubs in your garden that birds can hide in or perch on to escape predators. Birds don’t like sitting out in the open. When you encounter a little pile of feathers that used to be a bird, you understand why.