Gardening for the Birds

Birds bring many benefits to the garden and the gardener including the pleasures of hearing their songs, enjoying their colors and watching nest-making activities. When the landscape includes plants that give the birds food, shelter and nesting sites, more types of birds will visit and take up residence.

The backbone of a bird-friendly yard is native plants, especially the ones that produce flowers in the summer and berries for winter food. Sustainable garden practices are also essential, so learning to establish a chemical-free ecosystem is part of the process.

It helps to think like a bird. As you look around your landscape make sure there is food, water and shrubbery for hiding from predators. In addition a small pond will attract birds, frogs, toads, butterflies and dragonflies.

Many birds are attracted to specific plants. For example, Cedar waxwings look for the berries of eastern red cedar. But in general many trees are great for birds including fir, alder, holly, juniper, mulberry, bayberry, spruce, pine, oak, as well as sumac, rose, blackberry and hemlock.

You can add nesting boxes and bird houses or just provide the right trees and shrubs where birds can nest and raise their young. Nesting birds prefer fir, hackberry, dogwood, hawthorn, holly, juniper, spruce, pine, oak, roses, blackberries, elderberries and hemlock.

Many annual and perennial native plants provide nectar and food for birds. Bluebirds eat pokeweed berries. Other bird-feeding wildflowers to consider include Joe-Pye weed, goldenrod, boneset, asters, black-eyed Susan, yarrow, sunflowers, etc.

If you have a corner you can spare, string a wire across a patch of the garden. When birds rest on the wire they will plant a little hedgerow of their favorite plants for you.

George Adams’ new book, “Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard” has over 400-pages of tips, plant lists, regional gardening help, bird directory and a plant directory.  It is available from Timber Press (

For each plant in the 100 page Plant Directory, Adams has a photo of the plant, which birds are attracted to it, growing information and alternative species with the same benefits. For example, in the description of Serviceberries, Amalanchier, Adams says that their fruits are eaten by 42 native bird species, including red-headed woodpecker, American robin, hermit thrush, etc.

Three Amelanchier species are described in detail: Pacific, downy and Allegheny serviceberry.  The first two are small trees that grow to 20-feet and tend to form thickets; the third grows to 40-feet with a round crown.

Part Four of the book is a 130-page Bird Directory.  Adams provides information about several birds, their native range, habitat, breeding behavior, nesting and feeding needs.

For example, one bird described is a wood thrush. Adams says they are the best known North American spotted brown thrush and the only one that nests in parks and gardens. Their song is flutelike. Thrush favor a habitat of shrubby undergrowth and sapling growth.

The wood thrush migrates from March to May, spending winters in southern TX and FL. They breed from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The male arrives first, courtship follows and then the pair eats together.

Their nesting behavior includes the building of a nest 5 to 15 feet above ground level. They build their nest out of leaves, moss and roots. Females lay 3 or 4 pale blue or blue-green eggs that incubate for 2 weeks. The parents feed the nestlings berries, caterpillars and small insects.

A wood thrush will scratch around the roots of shrubs, eating insects that comprise 60% of its diet.

The author, George Adams is a birdwatcher, landscape designer, wildlife artist and photographer. The book shows off all his talents.



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