Landscaping for Birds

Many people enjoy watching birds and list bird watching as one of their favorite activities. As people learn to enjoy the beauty of bird life around their homes, they may wish to improve their yards so that more birds will visit the property. Birds are attracted to feeders, nest boxes, and birdbaths, and adding these handcrafted objects will certainly increase the number of birds visiting the property. Likewise, birds are attracted to the vegetation on the property. Plants are important to birds because they provide good nesting sites, winter shelter, places to hide from predators, and natural food supplies that are available year-round. Planting a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers is another way to increase the number of bird species that will visit a backyard habitat.

Landscaping primarily has an ornamental function, however there are many plants of ornamental value that also are attractive to birds. The ideal landscaping plan for attracting songbirds uses the natural vegetation of the region of the world that you live. Native plants supply year-round food, nesting habitat, and shelter from inclement weather. Many plants that are native to Georgia have an ornamental appeal needed for use in landscaping, but can also be used to create natural habitats that are crucial for attracting songbirds to your backyard. For example, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a native vine of Georgia that produces fruit in the winter and attracts eastern bluebirds, eastern kingbirds, American robins and several woodpecker and sparrow species.

Develop Your Planting Plan
Sketch a good map of your yard using graph paper. Pick out the areas you would like to add plants to and decide which plants you wish to add. Before planting, consider whether your choice of vegetation is truly functional for bird life. Does it provide dense cover for shelter; fruit, flowers and seeds throughout the year for nourishment; and a variety of tangles and branches for nesting? The first and most important step to attracting a variety of birds to your yard is to diversify your plantings with functional vegetation. See below for a list of plants, shrubs and trees that are native to the Southeast and good for wildlife. There is a tendency to include so many trees that eventually your yard will be mostly shaded. Be sure to leave open sunny sites where flowers and shrubs can thrive. Decide how much money you can spend and the time span of your project. Don't try to do too much at once. Perhaps you should try a five-year development plan.

Implement Your Plan
Begin your plantings and be sure to include your family so they can all feel they are helping wildlife. Document your plantings on paper and by photographs. Try taking pictures of your yard from the same spots every year to document the growth of your plants.

Maintain Your Plan
Keep your new trees, shrubs, and flowers adequately watered, and keep your planting areas weed-free by use of landscaping film and wood chips or shredded bark mulch. This avoids the use of herbicides for weed control. If problems develop with your plants, consult a local nursery or garden center.

And Finally...
Enjoy the wildlife that will eventually respond to your efforts at “landscaping for birds.”

Good Plants for Birds

Ground Covers
Examples include Ajuga, periwinkle, and pachysandra. Short evergreen ground covers offer protection from predators and the elements. Brown thrashers, eastern towhees, winter wrens, hermit thrushes and white-throated sparrows search for food while hidden in vegetation.

Vine Tangles
Examples include wild grapes and coral honeysuckle. Many birds such as Carolina wrens, brown thrashers, worm-eating warblers, golden-winged warblers, white-throated sparrows, northern mockingbirds, white-eyed vireos and gray catbirds prefer to nest in thick tangles. Honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and crossvine will also attract ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Examples include blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. American robins, indigo buntings, song sparrows, eastern towhees, northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, wood thrushes, Swainson's thrushes, and gray catbirds along with tanagers and orioles love the berries in late summer and fall.

Low Plants
Christmas, lady, and shield ferns offer soft felt-like materials on their stems for hummingbirds to line their nests. Virginia creeper produces winter fruit that is attractive to several bird species.

Examples include columbine, Solomon's seal, black-eyed Susan, cosmos, zinnia, Coreopsis, and thistles. Any flowers that produce seeds will provide food for northern cardinals, house finches, indigo buntings, chipping sparrows, song sparrows, eastern towhees and American goldfinches

Small Shrubs
Examples include pyracantha, wax myrtle, elderberry, viburnum, and sumac. Mix your small shrubs so they will provide fruits at various times of the year. Scarlet and summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Swainson's thrushes, veeries, gray-cheeked thrushes, wood thrushes and red-eyed vireos eat these fruits to build up fat reserves prior to migration. Winter residents like yellow-rumped warblers and cedar waxwings rely on these plants to make it through a harsh winter.

Small Trees
Examples include birches, dogwoods, redbud, hawthorn, magnolia and mulberries. The understory level of your yard is important for fruit and seeds and for many birds that nest 10 - 15 feet from the ground. The fruit from these trees will be fed to their nestlings in the summer. The left over fruit will be attractive during the winter months to Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, blue jays, gray catbirds, wood thrushes, Swainson's thrushes, veeries, hermit thrushes, scarlet and summer tanager, red-eyed vireos, American robins, cedar waxwings, and northern cardinals.

Canopy Trees
Examples include oaks, American beech, hickories, black gum, tupelo, tulip poplars, maples, and pines. Towering over all the lower vegetation, are the crown jewels of a yard and forest-the canopy trees. Hardwoods and pines, dead or alive, provide suitable nesting habitat for dozens of bird species including woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches among others. During the cold winter months, they also provide seeds and nuts for hungry birds such as northern cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, finches, grosbeaks, indigo buntings, etc. In spring, these tall trees “leaf out” providing tender leaves for caterpillars. Caterpillars are in turn eaten by neotropical birds such as tanagers, vireos, yellow-billed cuckoos, and nearly twenty species of wood warblers.

The preceding list of native plants and trees was compiled by Georgann Schmalz.