Your favorite bird or flock of birds are returning from their annual migrations and Mother Nature is providing a welcome home feast for them. Learn how to invite them to the yard and create a “birdscape”!
You can still have feeders with seeds, nuts, and fruit to bring the birds closer to viewing areas, but in spring and summer, most birds prefer a more carnivorous diet. Insects are plentiful in summer and will provide the majority of their nutrition. The best way to attract birds is by installing plants that attract insects, too. Insects are often unfairly treated as enemies of the garden, but in fact most insects are quite beneficial. They’re an important part of a balanced ecosystem, especially when creating a “birdscape”; Because if you want the birds, you gotta have the bugs!
Insects are essential to the diet of baby birds. Selecting certain trees for your yard will give you a distinct advantage when making a bird haven. Maple and Hickory trees are excellent shade trees and birds will forage for insects in the leaf buds and bark. The more dappled shade of birch trees hides insects inside catkins and small seeds.
Generally, native plants are going to attract the most varieties of birds. Native birds mostly eat native insects which evolved with native plants. Any of our native cherry trees are bird magnets. But even the non-native Amur Chokecherry still attracts over 80 species of birds to its branches because of the wide array of insects and spiders in the flower and leaf buds. Plus, the coppery bark is a wonderful ornamental addition to your yard.
I love anything with flowers that will blow a sweet fragrance into an open window or make me stop for a second sniff. But some of the best plants for a bird garden are the ones with stinky flowers. Hawthorn Trees, Dogwoods, and Viburnums, with their musty-scented flowers, are magnets to certain insects. You’ll see birds like Purple Finches, Bluebirds, and Cardinals digging in the blossoms for lunch.
Perennials also do their part in providing an insect buffet. Complete your bird garden with the bright colors of Milkweed, Blazing Star, Aster, Goldenrod, and Purple Coneflowers! These sun-loving perennials can easily be grouped around trees and shrubs to keep all the action in one corner of the yard.
Fruit is another summer food source. Pagoda Dogwoods and Elderberry shrubs do double duty. Not only do their flowers house tasty insects, but those flowers become tasty fruit in mid to late summer.
I always say that the easiest way to start a bird garden is by planting a Serviceberry! Whether it’s a multi-stemmed tree like an Apple Serviceberry or one of the smaller shrub species, it’s a sure way to bring feathered friends to the yard. You will enjoy the clean white flowers in early spring; the birds will enjoy the bugs. Then in June the tree is filled with Cedar Waxwings and Robins picking the newly ripened fruit clean. True story: I almost got hit in the head one time when a Robin zoomed in to get to his meal!
Plants that provide shelter and nesting materials are another important Component of a Birdscape. Little Bluestem and Big Bluestem Grasses are the perfect texture for nesting material. Birds will also take the peeling strips of Ninebark shrubs. Crabapple trees and Pines provide excellent cover and have branches with ideal crotch angles to build a nest in. In urban areas, the most important tree is the Arborvitae, where small sparrows and chickadees will dart into them for cover.
I saved the best birdscaping plant for last. If you want to attract a lot of birds, plant an oak tree. Oak trees are home to more types of insects, thus more types of birds, than any other Wisconsin tree. The acorns will also feed nut-loving birds and mammals later in the season. If you don’t like the mess acorns make, try planting a Chinkapin Oak. The acorns are so tasty to animals that hardly any will reach the ground.
If you want to attract more elusive birds like Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, or Hummingbirds, hang nectar feeders or fruit from tree branches. A coconut cut in half and suspended with string or wire will lure Scarlet Tanagers down from higher branches. Once they’ve eaten all the coconut meat, reuse the empty shell and fill it with nuts and fruit.
Finally, if you don’t live near a natural water source, you need to have a bird bath. Keep the basin clean by scrubbing with a brush to remove any gross build up and fill it with fresh water daily. Bird baths come in many different colors and materials, easily providing a functional and beautiful accent in your garden.
Increasing the bird population in your yard can be as easy as planting a single tree. Add a shrub or two, some perennials for color, and suddenly you have an inviting bird habitat for the summer. A bench placed nearby and some patience will reward your efforts.