Designing a Bird Friendly Garden


By Janet Beazlie and David Beazlie, BSLA, Landscape Designer

Before most of our garden shows early blooms, the birds begin their morning songs telling us that spring is here. Chickadees have told us every time the sunflower seed has run out in the feeder behind our kitchen on dark, cold winter days. Although they still frequent the feeder, they seem more interested in each other. Hummingbirds do their aerial mating displays. Fox sparrows scratch the fallen leaves under the naked willow. A pygmy nuthatch vigorously bathes in the shallow dish we fill with water. Over the seventeen years we have lived in this valley just outside of Forestville, we have watched many birds living their lives, whether as migrating visitors or residents. In this article we hope to share some of the things we have learned about making our garden a place where birds can thrive.

Songbirds face great challenges: pesticide use, climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, lack of clean water and predation by cats.  The greatest problem is habitat destruction. By restoring bird habitat through designing a bird friendly garden, you will be embarking on a satisfying adventure.  A bird friendly garden supplies birds’ needs for food, water, shelter, protection and nesting sites.  Essentially you are engaged in habitat restoration. Human needs for food, beauty, and communion with nature can be in harmony with your bird garden.

Know Your Land. By approaching our garden as a dynamic natural community, nature has been our teacher in restoring the land. Before your home was built, the natural landscape was there. The good news is that in Sonoma County there are plenty of wild places you can explore to see what your original landscape was. It’s important to know whether your land is part of a mixed Douglas fir forest, grassland, coastal scrub, redwood forest or chaparral.  Look to see what is growing in your yard already. When you walk in parks nearby, look for similar soil, sun exposure and plants to that in your neighborhood.  You can see examples of natural habitat full of plants that will successfully grow where you live.  Observation and getting to know your land is the first step to healthy restoration.

Build Healthy Living Soil so it is rich in nutrients, holds water, and protects plant roots.  It’s more than adding a little organic matter as compost and then covering with an inch of mulch. Healthy, living soil is full of organic material, microbial life and vibrant mycelia fungal systems.  Mulch that is two inches deep will protect plants from peak heat and cold as well as keeping water in the soil longer. The mycelium looks like small white threads growing in rich soil. Worms as well as beneficial and pest insects are drawn to rich soil. Birds arrive to eat them and keep them in balance.  Pesticides aren’t necessary, thus protecting birds from neurotoxins and other poisons they often encounter in home gardens and agricultural fields.

Create Clusters of Plants, Shrubs & Trees to create multilevel plantings that offer shade, protection, and safe nesting places. Birds like to live on the edges of the woods and open land. Some birds, like nuthatches and brown creepers, live up in the trees. Juncos, towhees, and California quail are often on the ground. Use plants that will attract and feed birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Birds love the sound of moving water. Place a small water feature, birdbath, or small pond near a cluster of bushes so birds can drink and bathe in safety.  We have a bird feeder that allows us to watch the birds and feed them throughout the year.

Choose Plants Grown at Local Nurseries that are adapted to local conditions. We are blessed in Sonoma County with many great nurseries that grow native plants. Consult nursery professionals for the best varieties that don’t need lots of water and match your ‘habitat’. Use native plants to build a healthy ecosystem. Biodiversity (variety in your garden) develops resilience and prevents plant diseases and pest outbreaks from decimating your garden. There are 1,200 plants native to the Bay Area. You can also choose nonintrusive ornamentals that produce nectar, berries, and seeds for birds. Our vegetable gardens are full of sunflowers and cosmos to draw bees to pollinate the garden and then birds to eat the seeds. Enjoy your bird garden!

David & Janet Beazlie (See our listing under Services)

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