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No matter how beautiful my garden is, I can’t imagine mine without the sight and song of birds. I don’t think I’m alone, either. Don’t we all get a little thrill when we discover a hidden bird nest in a flowerpot or when listening to a mockingbird’s melodic song? By creating a garden that caters to your area’s habitat, you not only enrich your own soul but you’re enriching the surrounding wildlife as well.
The faster society develops its land, the less land wildlife has to claim as its own. This is a real concern where I live, as nature is quickly being displaced by monster homes, mini-malls and residential developments. As natural habitats are shrinking, native wildlife is forced to find other places to call home. It's hard to imagine, but each and every garden (no matter its size) can actually have quite a positive impact in helping wildlife survive.
Where to begin? I usually tell people to start at the beginning, which in this case means at the bottom of the food chain: insects. By attracting a wide variety of insects to your garden, you’ll not only provide ‘snacks’ for the birds, but the insects will increase the pollination of your garden. More pollination equals more flowers, more fruit and even more insects….and so the cycle begins!
From this point forward, you'll begin to notice other forms of wildlife in your garden - starting with birds.
If you want to set out the ‘welcome’ mat for birds, you'll need to provide three things: a food source, a water source and shelter.
To attract birds, I like to plant large shrubs such as pyracantha, toyon or cotoneaster. Not only are they gorgeous in your garden during the winter months (when covered with their vibrant berries), they provide a natural source of food for birds when food is scarce. In addition to food, the large evergreen shrubs provide shelter as well.
Even if you have large shrubs, don’t forget to add a few birdhouses, too. Even though my own garden has plenty of trees and shrubs for birds to build their nest, I still have lots of birdhouses which all get used each spring.
In addition to plants, provide a birdfeeder or two (especially in the winter months when food is scarce). Which seed you provide will determine which birds will be attracted to it. I use a feeder with a common birdseed mix to attract a range of common birds (sparrows, doves and chickadees) and one filled with Niger seed to attract the beautiful goldfinches. Remember, though, if you begin feeding them they will learn to rely on you as a food source. If you want them to migrate to warmer climates in the fall, stop filling your birdfeeders in September - otherwise you need to commit to feeding them through the winter months.
Don't up and quit on them mid-winter after their chances of flying to warmer climates have passed!
One of my favorite types of bird feeders are those that have a wire cage around it. This prevents squirrels and larger birds from stealing all the seed, and gives the smaller birds a fighting chance!
When a bird has finished eating, what do you think it wants next? Yep – water! If you can, try and provide more than one water source in your garden. Small, shallow dishes of water or birdbaths provide easy access for little birds just as long as they're in an open area where neighborhood cats can't get them! Larger and deeper birdbaths are perfect for bigger birds and those who like to take their baths in large groups.
Birds will learn to rely on these water sources, so don’t forget to keep them filled and cleaned! I clean mine every few weeks by gently scrubbing with a mild detergent and rinsing well. If you live in a really cold climate, there are even birdbaths that come with heaters to keep the water from freezing!
Follow these tips and not only will your garden provide constant entertainment with the colorful show and songs of various birds, you'll occasionally find surprises in the most unexpected places! Yes, you really can have a direct impact on surrounding wildlife!