[Written 3/6/14; Updated 2/11/21]
For me, a garden is not a garden without a few feathered friends. The more time I spent in my garden, the more I started watching birds and learning to identify them. A few years ago I heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count and I have been participating ever since. Bird watching is probably my favorite wintertime activity. And yes, I not only make plant lists but I also make bird lists.
When I select plants for my garden I prefer to include those that are known to provide food or shelter for birds. In a previous home landscape I had two ‘bird’ gardens: one consisting of viburnums and native berry producing shrubs and the other was primarily seed and nectar perennials. In my current backyard landscape, the overstory tree canopy is primarily tulip poplars, sweet gums, and maples. I have mainly focused on adding a layer of understory native trees and shrubs. So far, I have a list of 27 different species of birds that have visited my yard.
Below are some of the best websites I have found to help create a bird friendly garden and habitat. Please also visit my collection, For the Birds, to see my backyard bird friendly plant list.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Best Plants and Trees for Birds
This website provides a great short list of the best Trees, Conifers, Vines, and Shrubs for birds. My favorites on this list: Serviceberries (Amelanchier species), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Arrowwood Viburnums (Viburnum dentatum species). www.allaboutbirds.org/the-best-plants-and-trees-to-plant-for-birds-a-starter-list| Also see Old-Growth Is Great, But Here’s Why We Need New-Growth Forests, Too.
Audubon: Turn Your Yard Into a Winter Refueling Spot for Birds
From the National Audubon Society, a great article on how to help birds survive freezing winter nights and sustain themselves with berry producing plants. www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2013/turn-your-yard-winter-refueling-spot
National Wildlife Federation: Create a Bird-friendly Habitat
This website includes tips on providing water year round, eliminating the use of insecticides, using proper nesting boxes, and if possible allowing dead tress as an important natural shelter or dwelling plus much more. www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: 12 Ways to Design a Bird-Friendly Garden
This website article offers great design tips including choosing plants that provide year round food sources and creating clumps of trees of the same species together, especially conifers to provide shelter. They also recommend limiting the size of your lawn because it is not as beneficial to birds as other habitats. www.bbg.org/gardening/article/a_bird-friendly_garden
Washington State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: Landscape Design for Wildlife
This website has a great visual on the different birds species that live at different plant layers in a habitat from ground covers, shrubs, understory trees, to the top overstory canopy. This is known as vegetation layers and relies on a diversity of plants to attract a broad diversity of birds. wdfw.wa.gov/living/landscaping/landscape-hab_quality.html
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Native Landscaping for Birds, Bees, Butterflies, Wildlife
Choosing to incorporate native plans also means that you are providing plants that are necessary to native birds and wildlife. This OSU Extension factsheet provides a great list of Ohio native trees and shrubs. But remember that native is relative, so do a quick search of Cooperative Extensions resources for native trees and shrubs for your state. woodlandstewards.osu.edu/sites/woodlands/files/imce/0013.pdf | You can also reference the North American Native Plant Society database.
Another important note in this fact sheet is to avoid invasive plants which can be harmful to native ecosystems, including vegetation and wildlife. Visit the USDA Introduced, Invasive, & Noxious Plants website for a national list as well as state lists of plants to avoid.
University of Missouri: Sunflower An American Native
Do you want to grow sunflowers for your own birds? This website will tell you everything you want to know about growing a crop of sunflowers. Did you know? “Of all crops harvested for seed around the world, only one was domesticated in America: the sunflower”
For Further Reading
I also recommend Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard from Timber Press.
These are just a few of my favorite websites and resources for creating landscapes and gardens to attract a diversity of birds. If you know of others, please send us an email or tweet us at @plantsmap.
Happy gardening, planting, and bird watching.
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