Diverse plants, shelter help to attract birds

June 28, 2009|By ABIGAIL YEAGER

As with most animals, if you put out food, the birds will come.

Birds do not always pay attention to what humans think is their natural environment, so don't worry if your yard is not a normal habitat for birds.

At least, that's the conclusion of Clear Spring resident Jane Branch.

"We have bluebird boxes, and they always used to say that bluebirds like to be in open fields," said Branch. "Our one bluebird box is under an apple tree and is surrounded by branches. I am looking out at it now, and (the bluebird) is making a second nest."

That's one thing that attracts birds: shelter. And to attract a diversity of birds, plant a diversity of plants. Evergreens provide year-round shelter. Deciduous trees provide nesting sites for warm weather. Even dead trees can attract birds; some birds prefer to nest in cavities in snags.


A second way to attract birds is to provide food plants. In its publication "Using Native Plants to Attract Birds," the Maryland Native Plant Society points out that some birds feed on insects, some birds prefer seeds while others prefer berries. Swallows, swifts and woodpeckers prefer insects; the MNPS suggests planting oaks and slippery elm trees, which attract appetizing insects.

Other birds eat a variety of foods. Plant berry-producing trees such as hollies and dogwoods; berry bushes such as blueberries; or cane fruit such as blackberries or other berries. And to provide seeds, plant grasses, sunflowers, coneflowers, clover or other seed-producing plants.

The third thing birds need is water. In her backyard, Branch has two bird baths, a lily pond and a creek near her house. Shallow water is best.

Attracting birds to your yard is not as hard as it sounds. Bill Soulis lives in the city and says his leafy lot attracts lots of birds.

"My yard is sort of like the woods even though it is in the city," Soulis said. "It is a good place to nest, there is a lot of protection for them. I do nothing to attract the birds. There is just a lot of foliage."

However, some types of trees and shrubs are more appealing to birds than others, according to Annette Ipsan, horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension

"Some plants you grow for their berries, others you grow for their seeds, others provide shelter and nesting sites," she said.

Cover is important. Birds need places to hide. Homeowners cannot get rid of predators. Neighborhood cats will stalk birds. And some predators approach on wings instead of feet.

"Cooper hawks will snatch a bird in the blink of an eye," Branch said. "There isn't much you can do to keep them away."

But even with the danger of the hawks, Branch sees many birds that come to her feeders, from bluebirds to Baltimore orioles to hummingbirds.

In the end, birds will go where there is food, water and shelter. Some birds have specific, particular needs; others are more flexible.

And some make do with what they find. Those bluebirds in Branch's yard? They weren't nesting in a bluebird box.

"The box that I was talking about was a wren box," she said. "The hole in the wren box was too small for a bluebird, but they pecked the hole bigger."

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