Gardening for Bird Habitat

by Lisa Hug

When we think of attracting birds to our garden, we normally think of putting up bird feeders.  This definitely works.  But, it can be more effective and enjoyable to design your garden with providing habit for birds in mind.

Blue Bird taking a bath

Let’s think about what birds need to survive.  They definitely need food.  They also need water.  They need shelter that provides protection from predators, places to roost at night, and warmth.  And, resident birds need materials with which to build their nests.
The easiest way to provide shelter is to plant lots of bushes.  Birds like small flowering plants in and around the bushes, rather than a flat, mowed lawn.  It doesn’t matter much what kinds of plants you choose for shelter, as it is the structure that matters to the birds.  In fact, a brush pile can be very effective at providing sought-after shelter.  However, it is best to provide native species of shrub that the birds are acquainted with and are not likely to be invasive.
Some nice native bushy plants that provide shelter, along with food resources are California Lilac (Ceanothus sp.), Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Malva Rosa (Lavatera assurgentiflora), Oregon Grape (Mahonia sp.), Coffeeberry (Rhamnus sp.) and Coyote Brush (Baccharis sp.).  The shrubs that provide seeds for birds are the California Lilac and the Coyote Brush.  Oregon Grape and Coffeeberry provide berries for birds.  The Malva Rosa has a wonderful flower that will attract hummingbirds.
Some smaller flowering plants and groundcovers to consider are Yarrow (Achillea borealis subsp. cal.), Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.), California Poppies (Eschscholzia sp.), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria sp.), Currants (Ribes sp.), and Sages (Salvia sp.).  Hummingbirds are especially fond of the Currants and Sages.  They will seek out the flowers to drink their nectar.   Wild strawberries are a nice low groundcover and robins and towhees will eat the leaves and fruits.  California Poppies provide seeds for California Quail.  I included Yarrow and Buckwheat because they attract butterflies in addition to providing seeds for birds.
An upper canopy of larger trees is also recommended. It might be surprising to learn that many birds will eat flower petals in late winter and early spring.  Golden-crowned Sparrows are particularly fond of blossoms from ornamental cherry and plum trees (Prunus sp.).  It is a very pretty sight to watch these gorgeous little birds feast on delicate cherry blossoms.  A Persimmons tree with fruit will feed American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, House Finches, and even woodpeckers like the Northern Flickers and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers.  Other trees to consider are Liquidambar and Dogwood trees.

Golden Crowned Sparrow

You may have a natural source of water in your garden like a small stream or spring.  Or you may want to provide a water feature such as a fountain or a bird bath.  It does not need to be fancy.  On a hot summer day, you can fill a pie pan with water and watch the hot, thirsty birds come in to drink.
There are two other recommendations for attracting birds to your garden.  One is to not be too concerned about it being overly-neat.  A few leaves or sticks on the ground give your garden texture and interest for wildlife.  The birds love the sticks for nesting material.  The other recommendation is to use as few pesticides as possible.  Remember, most insects are not harmful and actually help pollinate your garden; and there are many predatory insects that will help keep the harmful insects under control.  Many birds will eat the insects as well as the plants you provide for them. The birds, butterflies and other wildlife will thank you for this gift of a protective, non-toxic, food-rich environment in which to live!

Share with your friends!