Paul Schnare

Monday, April 7, 2003

Birds need three things to survive—water, food, and shelter.  Birds from all over will visit your landscape if you provide free food and water with feeders and a birdbath.  But if you want birds to call your yard home, you must also provide them with shelter in the form of nest boxes and natural habitat.

This natural habitat is important for many reasons.  It provides nest-building sites, places to roost, escape corridors and shelters from predators, and also natural food sources.  If you want a more diverse population of birds calling your yard your home, then you must provide them with a more diverse habitat.  

This natural habitat can be partially provided by planting a diverse group of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals in your landscape.  Large shade trees provide appropriate nest sites for robins.  Large dense shrubs such as Foster holly provide shelter for nests of smaller songbirds.  Open areas are perfect for bluebirds if you have nest boxes in place.

It is also important to provide natural food sources for your endemic avian population.  For example, purple coneflower seed heads are magnets for goldfinches.  Other natural food sources come from dogwood, honeysuckle, weigela, possumhaw, and junipers to name a few.

How you maintain your landscape is also an important issue.  If you want every shrub to be pruned into a ball or cube, the lawn to be perfectly manicured, and every ugly seed head removed from annuals and perennials, you may be telling the neighborhood birds they are not welcome.  They may be too messy for your landscape.

Songbirds really like areas that are natural.  For example, if you have a large dead tree in your yard that is located in an area that will not harm people or property, then leave it in your landscape.  Woodpeckers and flickers will thank you for it.  In order to make the dead tree look “prettier” in your landscape, remove most of the branches and leave a tall stump for Virginia creeper or honeysuckle to climb on.  You’ll be surprised to see how this dead tree may fit into your landscape. 

When you prune branches from trees and shrubs, create a small, loose brush pile in an inconspicuous location.  Wrens and juncos will spend time there.

If you want to turn your landscape into a habitat for backyard birds, then plant a wide variety of trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials, that provide them with food and shelter.  In addition maintain your landscape in a bird friendly manner.