Need Help/Inspiration for Bird Garden

chickadeemelrose(5)July 14, 2009

Hi folks, I am in the process of making our property into a more bird-friendly habitat.

Would you mind telling me what elements of a habitat you enjoy working on the most?

I have 2 great books and some great elements to start with, but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. Any advice you don't mind sharing would be great!

Thanks so much, in advance -

Donna in Massachusetts

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It might help to decide what kind of birds do you want to attract. Most books suggest a water feature or two that are shallow or can be made shallow by putting rocks on the bottom. If you use rocks leave one or two above the water to help birds bath in. Some of these can be as easy as you wish them to be.

The reasoning of what kind of birds is that some birds will only go through and be looking for food and a safe resting area. Some you might want to establish nesting area plantins, which could be low bush or a very high tree.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 1:16AM
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Thank you maifleur, that's a great idea to take that perspective.
As I'm sure you know, it can be overwhelming starting out with this. I appreciate your idea a lot!

Thanks -


    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 8:24AM
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Birds need three things: food, shelter, water. If you can provide trees taller than 20' (for nesting)and shrubs that are either dense (shelter and nesting), evergreen (shelter in bad weather), and berry-bearing (food) as well as a water feature or two, you'll get birds!
An easy water feature is an upside down metal garbage can lid placed in a shallow depression in the ground, and filled with gravel. When it needs cleaning, just put the hose spray on full force and blast it out.
Seed feeders will attract many birds. Black oil sunflower seed is attractive to lots of birds, as is the mixed corn/millet/black oil sunflower seed that is sold in large bags. Make sure your feeders keep the seed dry--moldy seed can sicken birds.
Good luck with your bird garden--the birds are going to love it!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 8:32AM
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Don't forget about the seed eaters too. Letting an area grow with native grasses and flowering perennials/annuals that provide seed is also beneficial for seeding birds such as sparrows, finches, chickadees, nuthatches, etc. Some good ones are Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans), Echinacea (purple coneflowers), Liatris, Cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, zinnia, hyssop, Gaillardia (blankeflower), globe thistle (Echinops) just to name a few. I left an area on the side of our house that is all gravel for RV storage "go wild" and now have a huge patch of coneflower and Rudbeckia that I let go naturally and am graced with goldfinches and pine siskins picking the seed heads clean all winter.

Here are pics of that area:


    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 5:24PM
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Thanks for the great photos and advice - I already have a clump of black eyed susans and I'll add the coneflowers into that bed.
I love the idea of having things available to the birds that are not necessarily from a feeder (although I know they need those in the winter).
This is just the kind of advice I need as a newbie -
I appreciate it.

Donna in Massachusetts

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 8:39AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi chickadeemelrose. I've been working on my 1.25 acres for about 5 years, trying to make it more bird and wildlife friendly. It is very mixed habitat with large canopy trees, evergreens, thickets, a small meadow area, some lawn, and lots of gardens. Mostly I have been removing invasive plants, and creating gardens using many native plants. The yard attracts tons of birds!

Plants that produce seed and berries for the birds are great. I have added many native berry-producing shrubs, but the only ones that made fruit so far are the Serviceberries and Elderberries. The birds just love annual Sunflowers - these attract Chickadees, Goldfinches, Warblers, and Downy woodpeckers.

I leave dead trees, shrubs, and lower branches intact in the wild part of the back yard. This provides critical habitat for cavity nesters, the birds love to perch on dead branches, and they also poke around in the soft wood for insects. Brush piles and wood piles also attract birds.

It is important to have a healthy insect population in your yard. Insects are a major food source for birds and 90% of terrestrial birds raise their young exclusively on insects - no insects, no food for babies. You can attract insects by growing native gardens, native shrubs and trees, and a meadow (even if it's just a small part of the lawn left to grow long). And of course, gardening organically.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 7:35PM
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Hi Terrene,

Thanks so much for telling me about your efforts with (wow!) such a large property. You are so lucky.

How long has it taken you to create your gardens? One goal of mine is to create some distinct garden areas, and so far I have a lily garden. But I tend to think I should be able to do too much too fast.

I am working on adding native plants that will keep the birds here (highbush cranberries, purple coneflowers, and
pussy willows so far. We do have blackberries, a cherry tree and a crabapple (which many birds spend the day in!)

We are REALLY lucky to have neighbors on either side who have 1) a solid wall of tall evergreen shrubs as a privacy hedge with us, and 2) a small sort of "forest" of lots of mature trees and woodland type forest floor on the other side of us. We certainly benefit a lot from these neighbors, but I want our yard to do the same. We live in a suburb of Boston but we are not "city people" so our yard is our refuge! And we are doing good for the planet, even if it's just our little spot.

Anyway, I ramble on...Thanks again for telling me what you're doing with your area. I will post what progress I am making, and what additions/changes I have made.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 8:45AM
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Would you mind telling me what kinds of gardens you have put together? I am looking for ideas in which I can use what I have already, and maybe add a few things. The lily garden with a tall birdhouse in the middle is the only garden I have so far (other than a small veggie patch).

Thanks again -

Donna (chickadeemelrose)

P.S. - Anyone else out there who wouldn't mind sharing what kinds of gardens they have put together - I will love to read about it. Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 3:16PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Chickadee, I've created several large garden areas. In the front, the gardens are mixed borders of shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses. Because they're visible from the street, they are a bit more formal with approx. 50/50 mix of natives and non-natives. I tend to focus on flowers that are pretty but also attract pollinators and birds. This includes Echinacea, Agastache, Cosmos, Zinnias, Aslcepias (milkweed), Salvia, Veronica, Phlox, etc. I've also got Peonies, Daylilies, Iriese, Bulbs, and a few Lilies, which are ornamental but have less wildlife value. Shrubs include Lilacs, Serviceberries, Purple Sand cherry, and a Kousa Dogwood.

In the back, I have a small veggie garden (it would be bigger but there's little full sun on this lot), and some native gardens, like the Tall garden, the Hummingbird garden, and a couple Woodland gardens. They consist of nearly 100% native perennials and grasses, with a few choice annuals that the pollinators and birds love.

The back yard is much more naturalized and it's where a lot of the bird action happens (although they love the front too). The hummers fight over the Monarda, Lobelia cardinalis, and Yvonne's Salvia in the Hummingbird garden. There are Bluebirds nesting in a dead Pine snag in the middle of these gardens. I watch various fledglings practice their manuevers in the trees. The birds love to eat the seeds of assorted perennials, and poke around in the gardens. The Bluebirds hunt by dropping into the gardens and paths to pick bugs.

I've also planted native shrub seedlings in the back, but like I said, the only ones that have borne fruit for the first time this year are the Elderberries. The Catbirds seem to be hovering around these waiting for the fruit to ripen.

There are 3 or 4 bird baths amongst the gardens for water and I have 3 small feeders, although I haven't been feeding much this summer, trying to discourage a few pesky House Sparrows that are hanging around. The birds seem to find plenty of natural food though!

Sorry this is so lengthy, this is a great pleasure for me and could go on and on! :)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 3:21PM
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One thing I forgot to mention is to check where your sun first touches in the morning or check for a sunny spot all day that you can place an area of leaves or compost. During the winter the leaves warm the dirt making bugs active. The birds will then scratch through the leaves looking for bugs. You will be providing protein, bugs, and the birds will be removing them for you. It needs to either warm up early or be sunny from about 2 on for the birds first and last food of the day.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 10:26PM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

I love my birdbaths! I have four and am planning to get another (when/if they put it on sale!). Young bluejays are the funniest when they get to splashing. I had a wonderful three tiered zen fountain, but the dogs got hold of the connecting pieces the first winter after we adopted them and chewed them up-now I have three very expensive stone dog water bowls. Birds are attracted to the sound of water and it adds to our enjoyment of the garden as well. I hang feeders under our deck and one of our dogs has taken to guarding them from squirrels-the birds land all around her-no worries. I also sprinkle some seed under the feeder for the cardinals, etc. who can't eat from a perch. Used to have trays, but the raccoons and squirrels broke every darn one. I suppose they got too fat from eating all my seed-grrr. Also, suet will attract woodpeckers and is a must in the spring for feeding babies. I feed year-round, but cut down a little when nature has berries and seeds to offer in late summer. Native plants are also important-I have echinacea, currants, serviceberry, dogwood, salvia, hollies, and others-and no pesticides! Now, when I go out to dig, rake, or whatever, the robins follow me closely, knowing I will be exposing lots of yummy bugs for them. terrene and maifleur and everyone have given you great advice! You will love what happens as you make your yard more bird-friendly.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 6:14PM
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Thank you for writing - I have been adding perennials and shrubs, etc. a little at a time. I was thrilled last week to drive in and see several goldfinches on my butterfly bush. It was great!

Honestly, since I started this I have seen at least 8 species of birds in my yard or at my feeders that I never knew lived here. It has been an eye-opener.

Thanks again -

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 8:03PM
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General strategies:

As people have correctly mentioned, give birds food, water and cover. Make a habitat with a canopy, subcanopy, and groundcover (think 3-dimensional - this helps build species diversity for insects, birds, etc). Make sure you have some thickets and vines too.

If you can let a hidden corner grow up in mature grasses - your sparrows, buntings, Goldfinches, Siskins, and other seed-eating birds will thank you. Try and encourage Panicum species of grass.

Good trees:

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera): nectar-filled spring flowers for butterflies and songbirds, seeds are relished in fall/winter by Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, etc. Host plant for multiple kinds of butterflies.

Red Mulberry (Morus rubra): spring berries relished by songbirds, dying fall leaves host leaf-rollers and other "warbler food". Host Plant for Polyphemus Moth.

American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana): nutlets prized by birds, host plant for Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purple butterflies.

Black Gum (Nyssa Sylvatica).

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) (great cover for daytime refuge and roosting at night)

Oaks (Quercus sp.)

Good shrubs:

Native Viburnum species

Native Ilex species

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Red Chokeberry - (Aronia arbutifolia)

Good vines:

native Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Wild Grape (Vitis sp.)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 2:35PM
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I have to tell you, the "Tall" garden you mentioned helped me resolve a problem I've had with my corner garden at the front of my yard. It's surrounded on two sides by our split rail fence, and I couldn't figure out why it didn't seem right when I looked at it. Then I realized, and your idea helped me solve this, that I had too many levels of perennials together, some of them getting lost and others not being allowed to grow as much as they could. So I did some major shuffling around of plants, moving some elsewhere, and adding coneflowers, bee balm, and asters for the birds to my "tall" garden, where I have rudbeckia, tall sedum, coreopsis, salvia and daylilies. This was so helpful, it looks so much nicer. Thank you for the idea.

I have gleaned much from the input I've received through all the followups to this post. I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond. Enjoy the rest of this summer...

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 11:24PM
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I too have enjoyed this post, learning a lot, confirming some thoughts I've had, and, in general, wonder why I didn't find this particular Forum a few years earlier. Thank you all for being so generous in sharing your words.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 2:22PM
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I am really glad I stumbled onto this post. It has certainly answered some of my questions but I still do have a few for those who are better informed than I. I just recently bought some shrubs. When I first bought them all, I was not thinking for the birds I was just thinking for looks. But since then I had noticed more birds at my feeders(just put them out this spring)and it got me thinking about my current gardens(just put in this year and a few last year).

I have 2 Ivory Halo Dogwoods, 1 Ninebark Diablo, 1 Viburnum opulus 'Roseum', 2petite Crimson Barberries and 1 Royal Burgundy Barberry. My question was would the bushes I bought attract birds? If these don't really attract birds than is there another bush that would? I only have room left to plant either 2-3 small bushes(3-5 feet) or 1 large bush(10 feet max) and I want to make it count. I was thinking maybe a beutyberry or maybe a current of some type.

I also have quite a few of the other flowers mentioned in the last few posts some of them being tons of cone flowers, bee balms, hummingbird bush, asters and I am even going to try keeping a butterfly bush(keep you fingers crossed).

I have been planning on putting a bird bath in one of the gardens, I like the idea of a tiered bird bath sounds pretty. I will also try and add a tray of bird seed but I don't know how that will go because of all my cats plus I happen to live in a cat loving town! You all great ideas thank you.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2009 at 9:26PM
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$800 bird baths? I have a $20 cement bird bath. Add to that some 1/4" tubing for a dripper. The birds in my neighborhood like it just fine. Most expensive part is a heater for the winter!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 8:08AM
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Hi - Everyone, thanks so much for your ideas/input on my bird garden. I'm getting there!

Dennisgli, how do you make a dripper with just 1/4" tubing, I'd love to try it - I have a water wiggler in one bath and nothing in the other. Would you mind describing?

I have found the birdbaths to be so rewarding to have in the garden, for the birds of course but also for me, watching them. I would really like to try making a dripper.

Again, everyone thanks for being so generous with your experience and preferences, I refer to all the posts often to better our habitat.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 8:41AM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

On the hosta forum, one poster showed a picture of a drip fountain made by placing a simple ceramic basin under a tree branch and letting a hose placed along the branch drip into it. It looked charming and I may try to rig the same sort of thing over one of my bird baths in such a way that the hose would be invisible like it was in the other post. Not sure how the hose was secured-I should have asked-but I should be able to figure out something. What could be better-a bird bath AND the sound of dropping water!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 1:32PM
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I made my dripper out of 1/4inch copper tubing and a needle valve to control the flow. The tubing is supported by a stake next to the bath. I've moved my bath away from the outside faucet since then so I just extended things with a piece of vinyl tubing.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 12:14PM
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