Saturday, March 7, 2020

Attracting Birds to Your Garden

I spent this morning giving a little talk on Attracting Birds to Your Garden.   The Master Gardeners hosted it and we had a great cross-section of participants - gardeners and Master Gardeners, birders, naturalists and Master Naturalists, and a couple of newcomers to the Rio Grande Valley.   Many who attended know tons more than I do about gardening or birding.   I promised that the hand-outs I shared would be posted here and that has driven me to post for the first time in a couple of years!   (Who knew I had so little to say!)    Instead of just posting the links, I decided to share the basics of  having a bird-friendly garden. 

The birds that introduced me to ornthology only visited my yard by lucky circumstances.    Back then, we lived along the Arroyo Colorado.    The native brush and trees all along the deep, wide banks were mature.    My proximity to such a large natural area was a happy accident but I learned much from it.  

So, lets get to it. 

There are four basic elements that a birds looks for: 
  • Shelter
  • Nesting sites
  • Food
  • Water                                               
SHELTER is cover for birds to watch for danger, hide from preditors,  and get out of the weather.    When you think of creating shelter, think of layers.   You will want to include canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, and ground cover.   

Multiple layers to attract multiple bird varieties

Here is a printable list of Plant Material for a Bird Friendly Garden

Getting out of the rain

When choosing a NESTING site, breeding birds look for an area large to provide food, nest-building material, and good place to build a nest. 

Here is a list of birds that breed in the RGV along with materials they build their nests with and their preferred foods:   Feeding / Nesting Habits of South Texas Birds

 Many birds build their nests in a fork or crotch of a shrub or tree.   They like the forks to be at about 70 degrees.   A little pruning in early spring to give birds more options, could increase your number of nesting pair.
Hummingbird Nest in Texas Mountain Laurel

A few birds, like kildeer, nighthawks, and commons pauraque,  nest on the ground.   
Common Pauraque on a nest - can you find it?  

Dead limbs or trees are also valued nesting sites.    Birds tend to choose trees to nest in that match their coloring or markings. 

Eastern Screech-Owl in Ash Tree

If you don't have dead limbs or trees, bird boxes can be a great substitute.    Birds are very particular about their nest box and here are some guidelines:  Nesting Box Dimensions. 

There are four basic types of FOOD that a bird will eat:  nectar, seeds, berries, and bugs.   Again, Feeding / Nesting Habits of South Texas Birds will give you specific foods that particular birds eat. 

Do not underestimate the importance of native trees and shrubs in providing food for wild birds.   There are many different definitions of "native" but I think if a plant grows naturally within 100 miles (as the crow flies), it qualifies.    Aim for a minimum of 75% native for a bird-friendly landscape.  

A reliable source of WATER is the 4th element that a bird is looking for.    It will be used in drinking and in bathing.   You can provide it with a birdbath, fountain, or pond.    Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping or gurgling water and it's easy to a dripper to your birdbath.    Elevate your birdbath to keep your birds safe from predators.  

To learn more, you may want to check out some of my favorite books and websites: 

·       Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas by Timothy Brush
·       Gardening for the Birds, How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard  by George Adams
·       Texas Wildscapes, Gardening for Wildlife by Kelly Conrad Bender
·       Backyard Bird-Lovers Guide by Jan Mahnken 
·       Plants of Deep South Texas, A Field Guide to the Woody and Flowering Species  by Alfred Richardson and Ken King

·       Native Plant Project
·       A Way To Garden  (Also a weekly podcast)
·       Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
·       The Cornell Lab, Bird Academy  

 For optimum bird watching in your own back yard, don't be too tidy.  Leave dead flowers to seed, let "weeds" grow and seed, and leave behind twigs, leaves, etc for nest-building.   Enjoy! 

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