ASK WENDY

Landscaping for the birds


Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

Q: I don't seem to be able to attract a variety of birds to my backyard feeder. I just get the normal cardinals and sparrows. I have a friend who boasts about the visiting Baltimore orioles and even painted buntings coming to her yard. What can I do to get more of a variety of birds to visit my garden?

A: Many people who spend a lot of time on their landscape or gardens are also avid birdwatch ers. But just hanging a birdfeeder in your yard doesn't mean that you are going to get every beautiful bird that lives in or flies through North Central Florida.

There are many things you can do in your landscape to attract more bird visitors. The first is to plant more native species. Use plants that have berries and seeds. I often see a catbird finishing the last purple morsels from my beauty berry shrub (Callicarpa americana). Flocks of cedar waxwings will soon be stripping the last berries from the yaupon hollies (Ilex vomito ria) and other native holly trees. When you use plants from the Aster family, such as native sunflowers or Indian blanket, their seeds become a tasty treat for the migrating birds heading south or north depending on the time of year. Try to install a variety of different types of plants from ground covers all the way up to trees. Having different kinds and sizes of plants to attract the birds will also provide what wildlife biologists refer to as vertical layering. When you use plants that have different heights and thicknesses, you will provide a hiding place for the birds that come to the landscape. They can hide in the different layers from predators, such as hawks or owls, as well as the neighbor's cat.

If possible, limit the amount of turf grass in your landscape. UF wildlife specialist Dr. Mark Hostetler says in the UF/IFAS document “Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success” that, “Lawn is like concrete to most species of animals. It offers very little food or cover. In general, we recom mend reducing the amount of mowed lawn around your house, especially in areas of low traffic such as corners of the yard.” This can help create shelter and provide food for many species. He suggests not mowing certain areas of the yard to attract different wildlife, such as small insects or animals that the birds might eat. It is using that same concept that he recommends reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides in a yard that is wildlife attracting. You don't want the early bird to get the poison worm.

One of the best things you can do to increase backyard bird activity is to install a fountain that has a gentle dripping sound. Birds that would never come to your feeder because they are not seed eaters will come to the bird bath or natural fountain. Choose a bird bath that has a flat bottom or a place for the birds to easily land. Remember to keep it clean from algae and regularly fill the bath with fresh water. Also on these freezing mornings, take the extra effort to thaw the water out for our feathered friends.

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. E-mail her at wlwilber@ifas.ufl.edu.

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