by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
While birders may be delighted to see any new birds in their yards, some birds are more welcome than others because of all the good they do. Whether you’re a homeowner, gardener, or farmer with decorative flowerbeds, a small garden, or extensive sprawling acreage, many birds can do good in your yard.
Goldfinches – Weeds can be an ongoing problem in the landscape, but beautiful goldfinches can help control this problem. These seed-loving birds happily eat weed seeds by plucking seeds right off stalks or foraging on the ground after fallen seeds. Lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches both eat vast quantities of seeds, and the more of these birds there are in your yard, the fewer weeds you’ll find.
Hummingbirds – These little birds are key to successful pollination for abundant garden blooms and bountiful vegetable harvests. Plant flowers that attract hummingbirds to the yard and these tiny hovering jewels will feast on your blossoms’ nectar as they fly about pollinating the flowers in your gardens. They also keep gnats and other small insect populations under control. Here’s a list of local plants that are especially attractive to hummingbirds.
Chickadees – These are voracious insect-eaters and easy to attract to most yards. Grubs and caterpillars are particular chickadee favorites, and because these birds have large broods, the parents will quickly hunt hundreds of caterpillars for their young chicks. One nest usually has 5 to 8 eggs, but nests of up to 10 to 12 eggs are not unusual, and that’s a lot of hungry chicks eating insects out of a garden!
Nuthatches – Tree-creeping nuthatches are perfect at protecting orchards or landscape trees, as they forage along tree trunks for moth eggs, ants, beetles, and caterpillars. These birds readily come to suet feeders or will snack on black oil sunflower seeds, making them easy to invite as guests to your yard. While there, they’ll help control the insect population in your garden.
Wrens – The energetic, perky antics of wrens are always fun to watch, and it’s even more fun to see them catch all manner of unwanted insects. Because many wrens forage close to the ground, they will control populations of beetles, caterpillars, and grubs, as well as eat ants and snails. Attracting wrens is a great way to minimize these insects in your yard without using harsh chemicals.
Bluebirds – These colorful thrushes are highly desirable for their beautiful plumage and lilting voices, but they also gobble up vast amounts of insects. Bluebirds are insectivorous; they eat beetles, weevils, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other insects. Attracting bluebirds to your yard can provide amazing natural pest control for your property without the expense of costly toxic chemicals.
Woodpeckers – In areas where wood-boring insects like bark beetle and borers are problematic, woodpeckers can be the solution. Drilling into bark in search of beetles, aphids, millipedes, and other insects, these tenacious birds won’t stop until they’ve sought out every morsel. Attracting woodpeckers can be simple, but homeowners may also need to take steps to keep woodpeckers from pecking where their pecking damage isn’t wanted!
Tanagers – Stinging insects can be a problem in some areas, but colorful tanagers such as the scarlet tanager, summer tanager, and western tanager can all help prevent painful stings. These birds are wasp eating specialists and have learned how to remove dangerous stingers before they eat stinging insects. Tanagers love the heat of summer, just when wasp and hornet populations are at their highest.
Purple Martins – One of the prettiest swallows, purple martins also are attractive because they feed on aerial insects, including moths, flies, and the occasional mosquito. Attracting purple martins can be a challenge because of their specialized needs, but other swallows, such as barn swallows, are easier to draw and are certain to eat more than their share of flying insects.
Hawks – It can be startling to see a hawk in the yard, but when these raptors make a meal out of unwanted squirrels, mice, snakes, giant insects, and other prey, they become honored dinner guests. Several types of raptors can become frequent visitors. In all my years of gardening, hawks have kept my yards and gardens free of unwanted rodents while presenting a minimal threat to other birds.
Owls – These nocturnal raptors are desirable to have visiting every yard. Not only will they control populations of mice, gophers, voles, and packrats, but because they are nocturnal, they are less of a threat to other birds. Attracting owls into the landscape can be a challenge, but their pest control service is well worth your energy. Putting up a barn owl box is a significant first step.
Flycatcher – Flies are just as happy at your backyard dinner party as your dinner guests, especially during the peak of the summer season. Flycatchers will forage actively for insects, but their absolute favorite dinner meal is eating flies, sometimes catching them in mid-flight!
Here’s a local resource to plants that attract birds into your yard.
Gardening Classes ~ Link contains the entire schedule of classes held at Watters.
Wildlife & Bug Prevention – September 15 @ 9:30am
Late summer is not only the peak of bug season, but it also brings an increased presence of furry visitors to our landscapes. Class begins with best practices to keep javelina and pack rats away, then quickly moves to solutions for challenging grasshoppers and tomato worms. You can have a nice yard with these easy-to-use tips and a few key plant choices. This class will give frustrated gardeners all the tools they need to maintain pest-free gardens.
Fruit Trees – Health and Harvest – September 22 @ 9:30am
Fruit trees not only beautify our landscapes, but they also give us actual food to eat. This class focuses on which varieties grow best in our community, how to care for them, and how to get your best bounty ever. We’ll take you season by season through the year-round practices that produce results culminating in the healthiest trees and biggest harvests.
If you can’t attend this class, watch the Livestream on Facebook. Like our page to be notified when we go Live.
Until next week, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping local gardeners attract more birds into their gardens.