Placing a bird feeder in your garden lets you see birds close up, but providing them with an assortment of beneficial garden plants creates a habitat where you can watch them interact naturally. Birds need plants for protection from the elements, food, nesting sites and protection from predators. Place plants for birds at a distance from centres of human activity to give them a comfort zone. A good mix of different sizes and types of plants encourages birds to visit and set up housekeeping.
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Fruit trees, especially cherries and mulberries, attract a wide range of birds. Some fruit growers plant mulberry trees to distract birds from their main crop. Mulberry trees drop messy fruit, so plant it where it won't overhang decks and patios. Birch, alder and American hornbeam trees produce spring buds and fall catkins that attract cardinals, finches, grouse, nuthatches and chickadees. Black gum trees produce a fruit that attracts flickers, cardinals, kingbirds, mockingbirds, thrashers, robins and tanagers. Crab apple trees, with their fragrant spring blossoms, are a visual pleasure in the landscape; choose varieties with small fruit that birds can swallow whole. Some crab apples hold their fruit into winter when food is scarce.
Evergreen shrubs, with their year-round foliage, provide birds with hiding places and protection from the elements. Both evergreen and deciduous shrubs are favoured nesting sites. Highbush blueberries provide cover, nesting sites and food for about 40 species of birds. Brambles, a group of plants with thorny canes that includes raspberries and blackberries, provide dense cover and secure nesting sites for approximately 50 species of birds. American elder, also called elderberry, produces an abundance of late-summer berries that feed more than 30 species of birds.
Virginia creeper produces small, blue berries relished by about 35 species of birds. This deciduous vine readily climbs trees, and its foliage turns a brilliant red colour in fall. A tangle of wild grape vines provides nesting sites, cover and food for more than 50 species of birds. The bright red, nectar-rich flowers of the trumpet vine attract hummingbirds. Canyon grape is a vine for dry, western climates. It combines with other plants to create nesting habitats and provides food for several species of songbirds and quail.
Purple coneflowers and blanket flowers are favourites of seed feeders, especially goldfinches. Leave the blackened flower heads on the plants to provide them with winter food. Sunflowers provide birds with large, highly nutritious seeds. Leave the plants in the garden after the flowers fade to serve as fall and winter bird feeders.
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- "Backyard Bird-Lover's Guide"; Jan Mahnken; 1996
- "Garden Birds of America"; George H. Harrison; 1997
- "The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds"; Stephen W. Kress; 1985
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