Natural places, parks and even some neighborhoods attract a lot of birds this time of year. Like humans, birds need food, water and a place to sleep. They also need places to hide and safe havens for raising their young. Areas that provide these basic needs attract birds – it’s as simple as that!
We are fortunate to live along the Pacific Flyway, a huge ‘bird freeway’ along which birds migrate each year. Some are just passing through. Others, like White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers, spend the winter in Southern California. Our natural areas, parks and gardens provide food, water and housing for both types of migratory birds.
In addition to the migrants, there are birds that live in our area all year long. You may have noticed resident birds in your garden. Garden bird watching provides hours of enjoyment for the whole family. It’s inexpensive and doesn’t require travel. You may even see baby birds learning to sing and fly, right in your own backyard.
Whether you want to attract migrants - or encourage resident birds to nest in your yard – a few simple changes can create better bird habitat. Even including one or two of these ideas can make a huge difference in your garden. Make a New Year's resolution to make your garden more bird-friendly. We think you'll find the added enjoyment is well worth the effort.
Most people think of bird feeders when they want to attract birds. Bird feeders are a useful way to provide food and attract birds - but they are just the beginning. Here are ten natural ideas that are guaranteed to attract more birds to your garden.
10 Natural Ways to Attract Birds
1. Plant a tree or large shrub. This is probably the single best thing you can do to attract more birds. The tree can be any variety (except palm trees) and doesn’t need to be large. A 6 ft. shrub will provide a place for birds to hide, perch, sleep and even raise their young. Plant a tree that produces fruit or berries and you’ll also attract the fruit-eating birds. For suggestions of good native trees and large shrubs for our area see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/hedgesscreens-habitat-311
2. Grow annual wildflowers and let them go to seed. California native wildflowers provide a riot of color in the spring and summer garden. They also produce lots of seeds. Let your annual wildflowers go to seed; they’ll re-seed the garden and also provide food for seed-eating birds. See the following for suggestions: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/seeds-habitat-311
3. Plant something in the Sunflower or Buckwheat groups. The native sunflowers and buckwheats (Eriogonums) produce loads of tasty seeds for the birds, food for native pollinators/other insects and lovely color for your garden. You can even eat the sunflower seeds yourself! Any of the sunflowers will do, from Encelia to annual sunflowers. These – and the buckwheats - will attract both the seed-eating and insect-eating birds. For a list of native buckwheats for local gardens see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/eriogonum-buckwheats-111
4. Grow at least one tree, shrub or vine that produces berries/fruits. We have both resident (Scrub Jay; Mockingbird) and migratory fruit-eating birds in Southern California. Grow a fruit they like, and they’ll flock to your yard. If you choose a berry/fruit that’s not edible for humans, then you can leave the entire crop to the birds. For suggestions on good native fruits/berries for birds: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/berries-for-birds311
5. Provide a source of water. All birds need water and it can be difficult to find in many neighborhoods. Consider adding a birdbath, bird drinker or bubbler fountain to your garden. Moving water attracts birds and prevents mosquitoes from breeding. A small pond with a waterfall is another option. Your water source needn’t be costly or elaborate; you can even build it yourself.
6. Use pesticides sparingly – if at all. Some of our more interesting birds eat insects – at least part of the time. Even hummingbirds consume insects & spiders sometimes. Birds actually provide a natural way to control garden insects, at no extra cost. Pesticides often kill all kinds of insects – good and bad – and remove a source of food from our gardens. Think twice before using them.
7. Don’t ‘prune up’ all of your shrubs. It’s tempting to prune your shrubs up to make them look tidy. But ground-feeding birds need a place to hide from dogs and cats. Leave the lower branches on at least some shrubs to provide a safe haven for our ground-dwelling birds.
8. Let leaf litter build up under/behind shrubs. Fallen leaves are food for ground-dwelling insects. These helpful critters are also food for many birds. Leave at least some (hidden) leaf litter for the bird’s sake.
9. Keep cats out (if you can). Cats are wonderful pets – but they are lethal predators for birds. Control their visits to your yard if you can.
10. Encourage your neighbors to follow these suggestions. It takes a village to raise a child; and it takes a neighborhood to provide good bird habitat. Encourage your neighbors to help turn your neighborhood into an island of critical bird habitat.
More Ways to Enjoy Birds
1. Visit local Nature Preserves/natural areas. The Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve and Madrona Marsh Preserve, the Ballona saltwater and freshwater marshes and areas managed by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy good local natural areas. The Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains, other wild areas are a bit farther away, but provide good bird viewing opportunities. Local parks (Ken Malloy Harbor Park is particualrly good) and botanic gardens (try the South Coast Botanic Garden) also provide good places to enjoy birds.
2. Purchase a pair of binoculars. A 7 x 35 pair is inexpensive and easy to use. A close focus binocular allows you to also view close-up details of butterflies, insects and plants.
3. Visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (http://www.nhm.org/site/research-collections/ornithology)
4. Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count - http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/
5. Learn more about local birds. Some good resources are:
Books: (purchase or check out from local libraries)
· Herbert Clarke: An Introduction to Southern California Birds
· David Allen Sibley: Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
· Kimball Garrett, Dunn & Small: Birds of Southern California
· National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America
· Audubon Society (Palos Verdes/South Bay Chapter) http://www.pvsb-audubon.org/
6. Learn more about providing bird habitat.
Wishing all a Happy - and bird-filled - New Year!
Send your bird gardening questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org