Inviting Birds Into The Garden

I was standing at my sink the other morning, when I saw it: this beautiful little bird, with black and white markings and a stunning yellow throat. Now, I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but I do know that seeing that bird absolutely delighted me.

In some ways, it’s just common sense. Like every other creature, birds need three things: food, water, and shelter. If you can provide those things they will visit. All we need to do is figure out what tickles their fancy, and then provide it.

Food: Food for our wild birds comes from two sources. Either we provide the plants in the garden and/or we purchase food specifically designed for those birds. Starting with the plants, we need to take a moment to think about how that bird feeds. Does it have a long beak that dips into nectar, such as a hummingbird? Or does it have a sharp little one that feasts on seeds and berries? Then of course, there are the birds that feed on insects, making them the perfect form of pest control.

Something to consider is that birds native to your area have evolved over the years to feed on the local plant life. If you want to support that population, plant native plants. Most of the plants I recommend below are ones native to Southern California, but similar species can be found around the country.

Hummingbirds are extremely easy to please. Think long, tubular flowers: Any number of sages make great hosts, with Cleveland Sage and Hummingbird Sage being two of my favorites. Other great sources are Beard Tongue, Columbine, and Monkeyflower. Personally, I stay away from hummingbird feeders. They are rather like feeding kids chocolate bars all day – lots of sugar, not much nutrition.

For birds that feed on seeds or berries, Currants, Wild strawberry, or Manzanita are great options. Most oaks are also great food sources, and the trees are absolutely spectacular in their grandeur. If you do decide to put out bird seed, make sure it is wild bird seed suited to the species in your area, and put that feeder up high, where cats can’t get to them. As for the insect eaters, you don’t need to do anything except be wary of using chemicals in your garden. After all, those little bugs we spray could be someone else’s lunch!

Water: Water is a treat in the garden, and not just for the birds. Birds really just need a tiny bit to drink and splash around in. If you are purchasing a fountain for your birds, consider buying one that has a lip or ledge. You also can’t go wrong with the birdbaths. There is nothing more delightful than watching a couple of birds flirting in a birdbath.

Shelter: Finally, birds need a place where they can feel safe and build their nests. Trees are the optimum solution. If you don’t already have one, plant one! The other thing to consider is nesting material. Being the lazy gardener that I am, it is the perfect excuse to let my garden get a little messy. Twigs, leaves, and bits of dried grass make great stuffing. I’ve even heard stories of folks who’ve left out bits of yarn, fabric or twine for them.

Marianne Simon

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