Ann Wright: Gardening for the birds
June 1, 2018
The morning chirp — such an inviting way to welcome a new day! Melodious greetings can be more prevalent in bird-friendly gardens, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has declared 2018 as the year of the bird.
There are many ways to enjoy and celebrate birds. Just sitting in a quiet place in the garden and observing birds is a good way to learn about them. Pick out four or five birds in your yard — first to identify them, then to learn about them.
Watch for different sorts of birds as many are migratory and are only here during certain times of the year. Some are insect eaters, some enjoy seed and others eat berries from native shrubs.
Watch as Spotted Towhees, juncos and sparrows forage through fallen leaves in search of seeds and insects. Consider the White-breasted Nuthatch as it climbs head-down from a limb or trunk of a tree in search of insects or seed.
Tips & tricks for keeping birds happy
There are many ways to establish garden habitats that may be more inviting to winged creatures.
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Provide food, water and protection for birds. In general, smaller garden birds eat seed, insects and caterpillars. Larger birds eat frogs, fish and other animals.
To increase the habitat for garden birds, plant native plants. Native plants support native insects which helps attract more birds.
Your garden may even become an island of habitat for migrating birds!
To learn more about the abundance of native plants that will help draw birds to your gardens, join Nevada County Master Gardeners for a free workshop, "Using Native Plants to Attract Birds to Our Gardens" on Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Demonstration Garden in the Nevada Irrigation District Business complex, 1036 W. Main Street in Grass Valley.
Increase leaf litter by keeping leaves on the ground. This provides habitat and forage areas for the birds as well as nutrients for the soil as leaves break down. Leaf mulch also helps plants because moisture is kept at ground level.
Plant layers within the garden. The greater diversity of food and layers in your garden, the greater diversity of birds that will visit.
For example, Dudleya or dwarf yarrow as ground cover, followed by taller native sages, California fuschia and penstemon is a way to start new areas. Adding taller shrubs such as Toyon, California Coffeeberry and other understory shrubs will add beauty to the garden as well as valuable habitat for birds.
Water — birds like shallow water. If using a fountain, a recirculating pump will prevent mosquitos from breeding, and the bubbling water is attractive to finches and other birds. Bird baths can be deeper in one area for bigger birds. (Change the water a couple of times a week to prevent mosquitos and disease.)
Bird houses can provide nesting areas for birds and come in many different types. Birdhouses can be a good place to study birds and the small peeps of baby birds is a joy to hear. But keep the cat away!
Some local volunteers monitor the bluebird populations and have placed special bluebird houses at different locations in the area. Be sure to clean out the birdhouses between seasons.
If providing supplemental food for birds, consider high quality no-waste type food to decrease seed build up on the ground. Clean seed feeders frequently to avoid mold and bacteria from building up.
Likewise, humming bird feeders should be cleaned every day or two in hot weather.
Other ways to reduce harm to bird populations is to eliminate the use of pesticides or poison for rodents. If using traps for rodent control, set the traps at night and bring the traps in during the day, or secure traps to ensure birds aren't inadvertently caught.
Enjoy your gardens and the birds! In addition to the Bird workshop on June 9, other upcoming Master Gardener workshops include "Succulents Add Charm to Your Garden" on June 16 as well as "Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed in Your Garden" on Aug. 4, after a break in July.
For more information about workshops or Master Gardener events, check the website at http://www.ncmg.ucanr.org or call the hotline at 530-273-0919.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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