Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Rocky Mountains
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Insect-eating birds will switch to fruits in the winter months. This chickadee has found a feast in a highbush cranberry.

Landscaping for the Birds

Wild birds need shelter, food, water, and a safe place to nest. To attract birds to our yards we can provide these necessities naturally or artificially. When we want to attract birds we usually think first of using feeders and bird baths or maybe even putting up birdhouses. But also providing trees, shrubs, and flowers that are attractive to wild birds is a fun and natural way to improve the micro-habitat in your yard.

As you add natural plantings around the bird feeders, baths, and houses, you will see more variety in the species of birds that you attract. Many birds, such as robins and waxwings, are not interested in bird seed but will visit our yards to eat fruits and berries and to bathe and drink from the birdbath or outdoor water feature.

Winter Food
When we design our plantings to attract birds, it helps to consider what time of year the fruits are available. Many of the insect-eating birds that stay with us all winter switch to fruits and berries for their winter diet. Fall and winter fruits can attract migrating birds and winter residents. Good fruiting plants include Washington hawthorn, mountain ash, and viburnums. Pines, spruce, and fir trees are excellent for winter shelter.

Summer Food
A good way to attract fruit-eating birds in summer is to plant shrubs and vines that provide food, such as red twig dogwood, serviceberry, western sand cherry, Nanking cherry, sweet and sour cherries, raspberries, gooseberries, and currants. Sometimes it can be frustrating to grow small fruits because of the competition from birds, but you can plant extra to keep everyone happy, or cover small fruits with bird netting during the ripening season.

To invite hummingbirds into our habitats, we can provide nectar-producing flowers that will help the hummers find our hummingbird feeders. The garden flowers that are especially attractive to hummingbirds are salvia, phlox, hollyhocks, columbines, impatiens, delphiniums, dianthus, verbena, and lilies. Honeysuckle and trumpet creeper vines will entice hummingbirds. Shrubs to include are butterfly bush, beauty bush, rose of Sharon, and siberian pea shrub.
Remember to avoid using pesticides on the natural foods that the birds will be eating.

Although birds may eat some of the fruit that we wanted for ourselves, the benefits of their presence far outweigh the inconvenience. After all, wild birds provide excellent insect control, so netting half of a cherry tree and sharing part of our harvest is a nice way to repay them for their help, not to mention the lovely songs and beautiful colors that they bring to our yards.

(Thanks to Scott Menough from Wild Birds Unlimited for contributing to this feature.)

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