Make a Backyard Bird Sanctuary
Make a backyard bird sanctuary by adding native trees, shrubs, and flowers to your garden. Provide birds with water, nesting sites, and food, and watch your yard come alive.
Attracting Wild Birds to the Garden
Attracting wild birds to the garden and enjoying backyard birds is easy once you know which plants to include in your landscape that birds love. Native species of trees, shrubs and flowers offer wildlife such as wild birds, butterflies and insects food and shelter. As many habitats disappear under urban sprawl, backyard bird feeding becomes even more critical to preserve and protect many beautiful species.
What Attracts Wild Birds?
Birds need water, food, nesting sites and places to hide from predators. Wild birds find what they need in the rural landscape. Nature provides a mixture of fields, mixed species forests, and water sources. As people have built on areas wild birds once used as food sources and nesting sites, birds have been forced to seek sustenance elsewhere. By providing natural habitats and native species in your backyard landscaping, you’re offering birds a welcome respite from urban sprawl and development, a place to go for food, and shelter for their young. Attracting wild birds to the garden is a fun hobby and adds even more enjoyment to the garden.
Plant Native Species to Attract Wild Birds
Native species of trees, shrubs and flowers offer good food sources for birds. Such plants often thrive where other species struggle because they’re uniquely suited to the local climate, soil and other conditions. Check with your local County Cooperative Extension office for lists of native species that thrive in your area.
Good native species to attract wild birds and create a backyard bird sanctuary include:
• American beech
• Bayberry, blackberry and other berry bushes such as raspberry, blueberry
• Dogwoods (Cornus species)
Avoid planting shrubs such as nandina, which looks pretty, but which has berries that can be dangerous to certain birds such as the cedar waxwing.
Plant a Variety of Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Attract Wild Birds
Planting a bird garden to create a backyard bird sanctuary enhances the natural landscape and provides plant sources of food, shelter, nesting materials and more for birds. It takes its cues from the landscape surrounding the garden, enhancing and building upon what nature provides.
Luckily for the average backyard gardener, the habitat humans provide by planting lawns, gardens and foundation plantings creates a landscape most birds enjoy. Walls and fences provide perching places; foundation plants provide shelter, and garden plants provide food, nesting sites and shelter. You don’t need a huge garden to attract birds either; a small backyard is just fine.
Bird Garden Design
Bird gardens do not follow any one particular style. They may be informal, with simple flowers beds and trees, or formal and meticulously clipped. While birds tend to prefer rough, ragged hedges and naturally shaped plants, they’ll still come for a visit if you love your topiary or your clipped box hedge.
Birds Love a Variety of Plants
The key to planting a landscape that birds love is variety. The ideal bird garden contains some mature, tall trees and some shorter trees. The tall trees provide nesting and resting sites for birds and, depending upon the tree, perhaps nuts and seeds too.
But here’s the best part about planting a garden to attract birds; birds don’t care whether it’s your garden or your next door neighbor’s garden. They fly where they will without regard to boundaries, fences, or property lines. If you live near a water reclamation area or sump, they’ll enjoy it as if it were a lake, and use it as their water source. If you have a park within a few miles, they’ll take advantage of the mature trees in the park for nesting sites and visit your feeder for seed.
Adding trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants to the garden provides addition resources for the birds and excuses for them to linger longer.
Annual and Perennial Flowers to Attract Birds
Many birds enjoy eating seeds from annual and perennial flowers. Some flowers provide nectar to birds such as hummingbirds who feed using their long, thin beaks. Such birds sip nectar from tube-shaped flowers and rely upon nectar for their energy. Others such as goldfinches enjoy nibbling seeds from the seed pods of such flowers as Echinacea.
For your backyard bird sanctuary, choose from among the many annual and perennial flowers and ornamental
grasses that attract birds to the garden.
• Bachelor Button (Centauria cyanus)
• Calendula (Calendula officianalis)
• Gloriosa daisy
• Love in a Mist (Nigella damascene)
• Pinks (Dianthus)
Perennial Flowers to Attract Birds
• Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
• Butterfly Flower (Asclepias tuberosa)
• Coreopsis, perennial types
• Echinacea – all species
• Perennial grasses of all types
Add a Water Feature to the Garden
To finish your backyard bird sanctuary an d attract wild birds to the garden, add a small water feature. A concrete bird bath, a shallow pool of water, or for the more adventurous, a pond, offers birds fresh water for bathing and drinking.
A birdhouse isn’t necessary but adds to the enjoyments of backyard bird watching. A bluebird house in rural areas placed on a south-facing fence post, especially in a field or in an area near a field where the bluebirds can feed on insects, offers an attractive nesting site to this endangered species.
No matter how big or small your garden, you can create a backyard bird sanctuary by adding a mixture of native plants including trees, shrubs and flowers, a bird feeder and a small water feature. Be sure to add this last item, however: a comfortable chair for bird watching. For just as surely as the birds love your backyard bird sanctuary, you’ll love resting in your beautiful garden and watching their playful antics.
My book, Attract Birds to the Garden, is just .99 cents on Smashwords as an ebook, available in your choice of formats. It is also available as an ebook from Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other online stores, and in paperback format from Amazon. It will tell you how to cultivate a garden that becomes a backyard bird sanctuary, how to choose seeds to feed birds and more. Purchase a copy from your favorite book seller or wherever fine books are sold.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.