By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Much of my garden is dedicated to attracting birds into our landscape. I firmly believe that a landscape cannot have enough birds . . . except ravens; my gardens can have too many ravens . . . Oh, well.
When the first quail start gathering after the New Year, beautiful males perched on top of the scrub oak showing off their colorful breast and head feathers. As the quail coveys grow and the males become more vocal, they offer a welcome suggestion that spring is “getting near.” Actually, they remind us that winter is an excellent time to plan for attracting more fair-weather birds to the yard.
Readers Digest Condensed Version
- Arizona is a north to south migration route with significant diversity.
- Birds need winter protection for cover, water, and food in the backyard.
- Attract birds with trees for fruit, shrubs berries, and wildflowers seed.
- Birds like to drink, and play in water 3 inches deep, even in winter.
- Pour hot water into a birdbath each morning or using a birdbath heater.
- Plant a few bird-friendly shrubs in pretty pots under your bird feeder for more birds.
- Free ‘Garden 4 Birds Plant List‘ when you visit Watters Garden Center.
In the Lain sanctuary, bird feeders are not the primary source of food. I have a few decorative birdhouses, but the food is provided primarily from strategic plantings. Without the right landscape, only a few birds can be attracted to the yard by a feeder. With just a little planning, flocks of birds will call your property home.
Because of migration patterns, birdlife varies widely through the seasons. This part of Arizona is one of the major migratory routes from North to South. Birds need to rest, nest, and feed in the yards that provide three basic essentials: cover, water, and food. Here are some practical tips we have used to attract more birds to the landscape.
COVER – Many new birders start by hanging up a feeder and wonder why so few birds visit. Birds want to feel safe in trees, under cover of shrubs, and welcomed by lots of edible fruits, seeds, and flowers. Plants that provide berries, fragrant flowers, and dense cover greatly increase your bird activity. Spruce, Pines, red cluster berry Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Heavenly Bamboo, and winter Holly are some of the best plants installed now and equally loved by birds.
WATER – Even in winter, birds like to bathe, drink, and play in water no more than 3 inches deep. A simple birdbath will suffice, but you can provide more elaborate water sources like ponds, waterfalls, and fountains. Make sure there is a spot for birds to frolic in your water feature. When planning the perfect bathing area, think of a fine Hawaiian beach, and you’ll be on the right track. Birds are like people and prefer a bathing area sloping into the water. As winter begins to freeze landscapes, water becomes more difficult for birds to find. It can be kept accessible by pouring hot water into a birdbath each morning or using a birdbath heater.
FOOD – Plant trees and shrubs to produce fruits or berries, interspersed with perennial wildflowers as a seed source. Titmice, chickadees, and jays are among the species attracted to sunflower seeds, and goldfinches especially love thistle seed. Thistle socks, suet holders, and specialized feeders for hummingbirds and orioles are excellent complements to a well-planted yard.
Plant a few bird-friendly shrubs in pretty pots under your bird feeder is an easy way to start. The 2021 pottery just arrived at the garden center. Pick a tall pot, at least 20″ across that can handle a large shrub or small tree. The more potting soil available to the plants, the easier they are to care for and the longer they live. I like the look of a large cobalt blue pot planted with a tall evergreen; it provides instant cover for birds and visual gratification for me. Winter is an ideal time to plant a cold-hardy evergreen for the birds and festive to decorate for the season.
Many shrubs are virtual gourmet food sources for birds. Different types of birds feed and live at all levels of the yard. There are ground-loving quail and flycatchers, highflying orioles and cardinals, and plants to attract each. If you are interested in attracting particular types of birds, then add more of their favorite plants.
I’ve been collecting a list of plants that attract birds and have put it in a handy guide. Ask for my free ‘Garden 4 Birds Plant List‘ the next time you visit Watters Garden Center. Take a look at FB.com/WattersGardenCenter and hit the ‘Like’ button at the top of the page; you will receive a copy when it posts later this week.
Oh, almost forgot, I shot a quick video on how to prune a Russian Sage that will post to my YouTube garden channel this week as well. Watch for it, or subscribe to the channel for an automatic update.
Until the 2021 New Year, I wish my Jewish friends a blessed Hanukkah, my Christain friends the Merriest of Christmas, and everyone else the Happiest of Holidays.