The dogwoods and American beautyberries around my house are full of berries this year. Other plants around my house, such as Carolina Buckthorn, had plenty of berries as well.
When these plants produce a heavy crop of berries, it means the birds will have plenty to eat in the winter. The other day, two pileated woodpeckers were in one of my dogwood trees eating the berries.
There were many other species of birds that were eating the berries as well.
Many people put up feeders to attract birds, but anyone can plant a bird-friendly landscape. In order for a yard to attract and maintain a bird population, it must provide food, cover, nesting areas and water. Ornamental trees and shrubs can supply the necessary cover and nesting areas.
Many ornamental plants can satisfy more than one habitat requirement. For instance, multi-stem plants that form a dense canopy will satisfy the need for nesting and cover.
The food source for birds should be supplied, as much as possible, by the trees and shrubs in the yard. Plants should be selected that ensure an available food source year-round. The use of trees and shrubs native to the locale will help ensure that appropriate fruits and berries are available for the local bird population.
If the landscape does not supply food during certain periods, it can be supplemented with commercial mixes of bird seed. This will help keep birds in the vicinity of the yard. Some birds eat a variety of seeds, while others prefer one or two types. The seeds that appeal to the majority of birds are sunflower, proso millet and peanut kernels.
Birds require a place of cover or shelter if they are to become long-term residents. They require protection from inclement weather and predators. This is why the multi-stem plants that form a dense canopy are preferred by birds. The dense canopy also provides an ideal environment for nesting.
Because birds require shelter year-round, the yard should have a mix of deciduous and evergreen plants. Evergreen plants include broadleaf evergreens, such as holly, and conifers. Red cedar is a native plant that provides shelter to birds. Several references suggest that at least 25 percent of the trees and shrubs should be evergreen.
To make any yard more suitable for birds, first conduct an inventory of trees/shrubs in the landscape and develop a chart that shows shelter plants, food plants, and what time of year these plants provide fruit or berries. This list will help determine the mix of evergreen and deciduous trees that are needed. Also, the chart will show if more shelter plants are neededr.
If the landscape is open, more evergreen plants might be needed. If the plants in the landscape don't produce fruit, plants that will produce berries should be planted.
There are many plants that can be planted to attract birds. Plants that provide both food and cover are ideal. Plants such as wax myrtle will provide both of these needs. Wax myrtle will provide seeds for birds in late summer and fall. Pyracantha produces plenty of berries in winter. This is an excellent plant for late winter food for birds. Other plants that provide both cover and food are red cedar, magnolia, nandina, black cherry, blueberry, dogwood and hollies.
Plants that are excellent providers of seeds are mulberry trees, sumac, sweet gums and pine trees. There are many plants that are better at providing cover. Most of our native trees are nesting sites for birds that nest on the limb of trees, and for birds that nest in cavities. Some of the trees that are good for cover and nesting are red maple and river birch.
A source of fresh water also is necessary to maintain any bird population. The water source should be shallow (no more than 2 to 3 inches deep) and replaced on a regular basis. Running water, such as a shallow fountain, is the ideal water source. The water source should be elevated or in the middle of an open area to minimize predation by cats and other animals. An elevated bird bath or fountain is ideal. Some people are lucky enough to have a natural water source nearby.
Our landscapes and yards are enhanced by the plants that we plant, but we can add more by planting plants that attract more birds to our yards.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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