Many flower gardeners discover by accident that their hobby gives life to a secondary passion: bird watching. This happens the first time the gardener sees a gold finch perched on a coneflower, or when we observe a former caterpillar pest struggling in a robin’s beak. Make the flower garden welcoming to wild birds with appealing food and shelter options.
Tolerate a Few Garden Pests
Many birds supplement their diets with protein-rich insects, so flower gardeners must allow a few insects to make their homes amongst the plants. Even organically approved sprays can be harmful to bird populations, so read the product label carefully before using in areas that birds frequent. Consider using insect controls that don’t interfere with wild bird feeding habits, such as handpicking, yellow sticky traps, or other physical controls.
Although some wild birds can be pests to gardeners, especially in orchards and berry patches, several common garden species feed largely on insects. Flower gardeners should welcome bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and barn swallows. Robins and starlings are also active insectivores, but may dine on fruit as well. You may be surprised that even the hummingbird, which we attempt to lure with all sorts of red nectar feeders, eats dozens of protein-rich insects each day.
Grow Seed Producing Flowers
Gardeners who grow the flowers birds relish may never have to fill a single bird feeder. Amaranth, millet, safflower, sunflowers, and coneflowers all produce oil-rich seeds that attract wild birds. Some flowers that gardeners commonly deadhead throughout the growing season also provide seeds for birds, so stop deadheading cosmos, zinnias, and coreopsis in late August to ensure a winter crop of natural food.
Provide Shelter for Birds
Not all birds desire trees for nest building. Several common North American birds, such as cardinals, like to build their nests in dense shrubbery or hedges. Include low-care specimens in the flower garden that provide cover as well as beauty, such as honeysuckle, camellias, lilacs, or hawthorn. Add some flowers that produce downy seed heads, like clematis, and you will provide nesting material for some bird species as well.
The placement of shrubs around bird feeders is critical. Although birds like to flit back and forth from the branches of trees to feeding stations, planting dense shrubbery around bird feeders may conceal predators, like housecats. Blow the predator’s cover by keeping feeders at least 10 feet away from shrubs.
Flower gardeners who live in northern climates may include some evergreen trees or shrubs to protect wild birds on frigid winter nights. If possible, plant evergreens on the southern side of the property or in an area sheltered from the wind. A large brush pile left undisturbed in the corner of the yard may also serve as a roosting spot for birds.
Lure Birds to the Container Garden
It’s easy to attract butterflies to a small stand of cosmos on a sunny deck, but avian visitors are less likely to hang around a small garden space without some special features just for them. Wild birds like to take dust baths in the summer to control parasites, so place a shallow dish filled with ashes or sand amongst your flowering plants. A glossy ceramic dish filled with fresh water daily will serve as a beacon for birds any time of the year, as even birds not normally attracted to feeders seek water for drinking and bathing.