Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2003
Regional Report

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Berry-producing trees and shrubs, such as this dogwood, are the most popular hangouts in my garden.

Creating a Haven for Feathered Friends

Bird watching is a hobby I really enjoy, and I've carefully created a backyard haven to attract birds of all kinds. In fact, of all the wildlife that visits my garden, birds are the most welcome. I find their antics at the feeders quite amusing, and I know they're ridding my garden of hundreds of pesky insects each and every day. It's not difficult to accommodate our feathered friends; they're happy with the simple basics of food, shelter, and clean water. And no matter how small an area you have, you can make it a refuge for birds.

Plan Ahead
Decide first which species of bird you want to attract, then offer the kind of food that particular bird prefers. You can hang bird feeders in your garden or add plants to create a natural source of food. You'll find that some birds are bold and others are shy; some feed on the ground, some come to any feeder, and others prefer the seclusion of trees. You'll attract the widest variety of birds by incorporating all of these elements into your garden.

Birds need shelter to protect them from the elements and allow them to hide from predators. Dense, twiggy shrubs and evergreens are the shelter of choice for most birds, but deciduous ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers, as well as flowering annuals and perennials, can all provide food and protection. I've found that berry-producing trees and shrubs are the most popular hangouts in my garden. Favorites include cotoneaster, barberry, euonymus, dogwood, huckleberry, and viburnums of all kinds.

Food and Feeders
Depending on the type of bird you're trying to attract, you'll probably need to provide different types of food. For example, finches eat seeds, woodpeckers look for nuts, and hummingbirds want nectar. Just as birds eat different types of food, they also prefer different styles of feeders. Some are designed to attract a specific bird, such as the finch feeder and oriole feeder. Ground-feeding birds will come to a flat platform feeder, and there are feeders designed for smaller birds. For the greatest variety and number of birds, try a variety of feeding spots and feeders. Start with one or two feeders and increase the number as you learn which foods and feeders the birds prefer.

Water is vital for birds throughout the year so a reliable source should be part of your backyard habitat. Ideally, the water source should be about three inches deep and three feet off the ground. Motion and sound will attract a bird's attention, and I've found that suspending a leaky bucket from a branch over a birdbath provides just enough sound to interest the most timid of my bird population.

Keeping Predators at Bay
The neighbor's cat and I share a similar interest in my bird feeders. She seems to think I'm attracting birds for her amusement, and I like to think I'm attracting them for mine. Feline harassment wasn't a part of the original plan, and ground-feeding birds are at greatest risk of ambush by the cat. So to ensure their safety, I've fashioned an enclosure out of chicken wire and anchored it to the ground directly beneath her favorite feeder. It's a 6-foot circle about 18 inches high and open at the top. It looks a little bit like a playpen. With this in place the cat will have to leap over the barrier to get to the birds, which will betray her presence, providing fair warning to our feathered friends. I don't especially like the look of chicken wire in the middle of a flowerbed so I've planted trailing Thunbergia around the outside of the enclosure. As the plants grow, I'm coaxing the stems in and around the wire. By early summer it will look terrific and only the birds, the cat, and I will know its true function.

If you spend a little time planning, you'll soon have birds flocking to your backyard! Then you can get out your field guide and your binoculars and join the 20 million other Americans who enjoy the rewarding hobby of bird-watching.

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