Bring Back the Birds
Landscaping for our feathered friends.
By Rachel Dickinson | Illustration by Ray E. Watkins Jr.
At first glance, the wide-open spaces of the countryside would seem to offer a terrific habitat for birds. There are, however, a number of things you can do to make your land more attractive to our feathered friends during migration, when they stop to nest and especially in the cold months of winter.
Often called birdscaping, landscaping to attract birds shares a number of things in common between rural areas and suburbia. For instance, no matter where they are, birds—like all animals—need food, water, protection from predators and the elements, and space to move around.
Generally speaking, the more plant, insect and structural diversity a landscape provides (as in trees, bushes and brush piles), the greater the variety of birds that will want to call your place home. Also, in most situations native plantings will attract the highest number of bird species to your land.
When you think about what to plant, consider both perennials and annuals for the seeds they produce. The key is variety. Ornamentals or non-native plants can look beautiful, but often don’t yield seeds or berries necessary for a healthy bird population.
Don’t forget the bird feeders. Once you entice the birds in, you’ll want to provide food for them all season long. Using different kinds of feeders, you can set out suet for woodpeckers, black oil sunflower seeds for virtually all seed-eating birds, sugar water for hummingbirds and Nyjer—thistle seeds—for finches. A birdbath or some kind of freshwater source, such as a little pond, is necessary for happy, healthy birds.
Shelter belts and hedgerows, especially when planted with a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees, provide ample space for nesting and food sources. On the farm, leave crop residue on the soil surface as long as possible to provide cover and help support insect life that serves as food for birds.
Grassy strips within or wooded areas on the edge of cultivated fields also provide shelter, and you can help preserve wetlands by buffering them with zones of natural vegetation. Even levees can be built with flat tops (as opposed to A-frame surfaces) that allow for better nesting sites.