Birds in the Garden · Garden Design

February is National Bird Feeding Month.

Woodpecker and friend at birdfeeder

February is a difficult month for birds. It is especially important to keep feeders filled as natural sources of food, feasted on for months, become scarce.

Birds keep me entertained all winter as they flit and frolic from feeder to feeder. While I may spend more time watching birds in the winter, they bring color and song into the garden all year long. Let’s all plan to make our landscapes more welcoming to our feathered friends in the coming season.

Their requirements are simple – food, water and shelter. A feeder in the backyard can provide food, but there are many insect- and fruit-eating birds that never visit feeders. And to entice permanent residents, shelter and a place to nest are also necessary.

Robins may stick around for the winter if they have plenty of berries to eat.
Robins may stick around for the winter if they have plenty of berries to eat.

Trees and Shrubs for Birds

Plant a wide variety of trees and shrubs to encourage the greatest number of birds. Choose trees and shrubs that provide lots of seeds or berries, and also those that host plenty of insects.

Mulberry, maple, pine, cherry, serviceberry, oak and beech are all good choices. Dogwood, viburnum, sumac, juniper, holly and elderberry are more suitable options.

Trees and shrubs that hold their fruit over winter are particularly prized picks. Crabapple, hawthorn and cranberry viburnum all fall into this group.

Be sure to include some evergreen trees and shrubs. Evergreens offer both shelter from the elements and protection from predators.

Birds devour bittersweet berries in the fall.
Birds devour bittersweet berries in the fall.

Vines for Birds

Many vines are attractive to birds for their fruits, the cover they provide, and for nesting purposes. Honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, bittersweet, trumpet vine, and clematis are all vines to consider.

Plant some annual vines like morning glory and cardinal creeper to provide cover in a young landscape while waiting for slower-growing varieties to mature.

Finches feast on the seeds of coneflowers.
Finches feast on the seeds of coneflowers.

Annuals and Perennials for Birds

Annual and perennial flowers provide food for birds in the form of flowers, seed heads, and the insects these plants attract.

Finches and goldfinches favor the seeds of annual cosmos, marigold and zinnia. Sunflowers are the favorites of many species. Quaking grass, love grass, globe thistle, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, purple coneflower, and aster are some perennial favorites.

Blue Jay in Blue Muffin Viburnum

Maintaining a Bird-Friendly Landscape

To maintain your bird-friendly landscape, prune only when necessary. Let trees and shrubs grow into their natural shapes to provide cover and encourage nesting. If you prune, do it after flowering to maximize next year’s blooms and fruits.

Also, be sure to leave some seed heads on garden flowers for the finches and other seed-eating birds. And, of course, bird-friendly gardens should be kept free of chemicals.

Birds bathe to keep feathers clean in all seasons.
Birds bathe to keep feathers clean in all seasons.

Birds Need Water

Birds need water, both for drinking and for bathing. A birdbath, either purchased or improvised, will work. Be sure it has sloping slides and a rough area for footing. Place it near low-growing shrubs or other shelter so birds can escape from predators.

In the winter, buy a deicer for your current birdbath or buy a separate heated birdbath. If neither of these options is possible, put out a shallow dish of fresh water every day. They continue to bathe throughout the winter – clean feathers insulate much better than dirty ones.

Most importantly, make sure the garden and bird feeders are visible from the house so you can enjoy the beauty birds bring to the garden year round. Garden with me!

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