Home & Garden: Gardening for the Birds

Written in the October 2009 Issue
As fall leaves begin to gather in our yards, it’s a clear sign the autumn chill is finally upon us. Acceptance of nature’s seasons does not have to be a bleak outlook for your garden though. There are many ways Edmond home owners can continue to attract birds to their yards year-round. From vegetation, to water, food and even shelter, local businesses share their “insider” tips.


Vegetation to Plant
Timothy O’Connell, Associate Professor at the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Oklahoma State University says, “The first thing a landowner interested in wildlife attraction should do is abandon the notion that an ideal yard should look like a putting green,” he says. “What we call ‘weeds’ birds call
‘natural foods’.” 

If an Edmond home owner is looking for the well-manicured lawn while also wanting to attract some birds, Brian Pirtle, of TLC Nursery and Greenhouse has an idea to keep those “natural foods” contained in one area. “I recommend having an old log or brush in the back corner of a yard. It collects worms and bugs to attract birds naturally,” he said, without overwhelming the landscape.

“To attract birds to your yard grow trees, shrubs, flowers, and vines,” said Sandra Precure, with Precure Nursery and Garden Center. If space is at a premium on your porch, she says, “Plant them in your yard or in containers on balconies and patios.”

Precure recommends planting: marigold, sunflower, pampas grass, boxwood bayberry, elderberry, Yaupon holly, mugo pine, English ivy, and Virginia creeper.

“Native small trees and shrubs like redbud, dogwoods, and hollies can be attractive to birds for food, nesting, and thermal cover. Any native fruiting plants provide great potential to attract both resident and migrating birds,” says O’Connell.


Water Guidelines
Birdbaths are also a nice way to entice fall travelers as birds begin to migrate this winter. Pirtle reminds us to have no more than two to three inches of water, as the depth may scare birds, “Keep your birdbaths in open areas with fresh water,” he says. “Birds will avoid water sources where predators might hide in tight areas to pounce.”

O’Connell recently formed a water mister out of a simple garden house with an adjustable mister nozzle at the end – a very inexpensive way to create a combination effect for wildlife. “I run the hose along the ground and wrap it around a tree branch so that the mist can disperse over a broad area. I place a pan under the nozzle to catch drips,” he said. “Hummingbirds will fly through the mist to bathe - very beautiful.”

The benefits also include softening the nearby ground. “Hard-packed ground in winter and summer is not good for feeding robins and mockingbirds,” he said. “By softening up the ground, a whole new source of food - worms, crickets, spiders - is made available.”


Food Advice
Most “city” birds are ground feeders, according to Precure, so start by offering a small amount of seed in a shallow dish or a flower box. Pirtle agrees, “In my garden, I always plant to bring birds into the yard, and then I bring them closer by placing bird feeders near windows,” he said. “You can buy bird seed, but a lot of perennials and grasses provide seeds for small birds as well.”

Pirtle believes that when attracting birds to your yard - food, is equally important to water, as well as cover. Providing a safe place for birds to raise their young. “Birds do not like to rest in a bare yard. Most garden birds rely on the thick foliage of trees and shrubs to shield their eggs and nestlings from the wind, rain, and hungry predators,” says Precure.
O’Connell has recorded more than 80 species of birds around his 1/4 acre lot. “Just about anybody, anywhere, can provide for at least 20 species of birds with a basic feeding operation.” He feeds with little black oil sunflower seeds year-round. “This seed attracts cardinals, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, doves, blue jays, house finches, and house sparrows in all seasons. If you do nothing else, you can enjoy many birds in your yard by simply spreading some black oil sunflower seed under a tree,” he says.


Fall/Winter Tips
It is also recommended that for winter feeding  - roughly Thanksgiving to Easter – you can provide cracked or whole corn on the ground in addition to the sunflower seeds. Although this will provide for additional species, such as crows, blackbirds and red-bellied woodpeckers, according to O’Connell, it also occupies the squirrels quite well. So if you’ve been trying to avoid those fuzzy-tailed friends, you might stick with the simple seed instead.

“During winter, I also provide suet cakes, or smear frozen bacon grease into bark as a high-fat supplement when it’s really cold. I offer raisins year-round in a little cup duct-taped to the ledge on my office window on campus,” he says, “Beautiful orioles are unable to resist half an orange impaled on a broken off tree branch. Every once in a while I even provide live mealworms in a cup. I’d do more of this, but the birds gobble them up so fast, it’s hard to keep pace with demand.”

For more information on Gardening for Birds, visit www.okbirds.org. Or, contact Precure Nursery at 721-5637 or TLC at 751-0630 to help you create a plan for your yard this fall. 
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