North Carolina has an impressive variety of bird species, but if you live in one of the Triangle’s new subdivisions, you might not see them. When developers clear land, they disrupt natural wildlife habitats. To bring birds to your garden, you need to create nesting areas and incorporate sources of shelter, food and water. With that in mind, here are my top tips for designing a bird-friendly garden:
1. Incorporate dense foliage of varying heights into your garden. This provides a safe place for cover, roosting and protection from predators. There are countless options. Some of my favorites are magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Carolina allspice (Calycanthus raulstonii), holly (Ilex decidua), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifer).
2. Don’t remove that brush pile. Birds roost and nest in natural areas. Some of my clients are fanatic about keeping a tidy, manicured yard. Although that pile of twigs, straw and clippings may be unsightly to human eyes, the birds will love it!
3. Use seed and fruit-bearing shrubs. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is my top choice because it is native to our area and a source of food for over 40 species of birds. It produces brilliant clusters of purple berries that last from late summer well into the winter months. Sarviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is another low-maintenance shrub that does fine in wet and shady areas and produces purplish berries in late May or June. A lot of clients ask me about blackberries and raspberries, which are loved by birds and humans alike; however, these require special care (check out this resource from NC State).
4. Provide a natural source of nectar. Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers that are tubular. I like to use red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis), and trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). My wife’s favorite is jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) also known as Carolina “Jasmine,” which has a strong, sweet fragrance that she says “smells divine” and reminds her of her grandmother.
5. Establish a water source. Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Unless you have a natural water source such as a creek or pond at your property, you will need to provide water for the birds. Many of my clients like to incorporate water features or fountains into their landscape, but a quick, inexpensive option is to setup a birdbath. Put your water source within easy view to make it entertaining for the homeowner also!
6. Provide a safe place for reproduction and raising young. Natural areas for nesting include dense shrubs, cavities within shrubs and trees, and of course, bird houses. Every garden needs a bluebird house.You can buy bluebird nest boxes from your local NC State Employees’ Credit Union branch for $10 each, and you don’t have to be a Credit Union member.
7. Don’t forget to prepare for winter. In the winter months, most gardeners will need to keep their feeders filled with seed and suet to provide a supplemental source of food. I use black oil sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, shelled peanuts and raisins in my feeder. When the temperature dips below freezing, watch your birdbaths to keep them from freezing over.
Year after year I’ve seen an increase in the number and variety of birds in my yard. This didn’t happen by accident. It took careful planning and consideration. I now have eastern bluebirds, finches, cardinals, chickadees, and wrens, and I cannot wait to see what this year brings!
How about you? What are your favorite bird-friendly plants and gardening tips? I would love to hear from you! Comment below, or shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.