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Creating a Songbird Garden

The melody of birds chirping and warbling, and singing their little hearts out, is sure to warm the spirit even on the grayest of days and bring a sense of calm.

Fascinating to watch, and with such a huge variety of distinctive looks, traits, and sounds, birds are a welcome visitor to any green space. And, as any avid bird watcher will tell you, the old phrase “bird brain” is ridiculous, since birds are actually incredibly intelligent creatures, known to problem solve and adapt as needed.

If you’re like me and have a desire to attract more songbirds to your garden, then you’ll want to keep the following suggestions in mind, since they’re surefire ways to get more of them visiting year-round for your pleasure.

Creating the Right Habitat
Black Eyed Susan flowers

Go Local

The first thing to keep in mind when creating a songbird garden is that local is best. This means go for native plant species only and don’t get lured into adding any flashy non-native plants (even if they’re the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen), since they’ll act as a deterrent to birds of all kinds and are usually an unwelcome guest to many native bugs and insects (that birds rely on for food).

Pack in a variety of plants in varied sizes and textures, since this will create a habitat that will make songbirds feel safe and at home, providing places to hide, nest, and forage for food without being overly exposed to predators such as cats, foxes, and other animals which may be on the prowl.

Further to this, experts suggest that you design the space so that taller, bushier plants remain in the background, and smaller plants cascade into the foreground since this will allow for better observation of your winged guests — not to mention that it adds more structure to your landscape for an overall visually pleasing effect.

Food Sources

By keeping your garden completely native to your local environment, you’ll successfully attract more bugs and insects which, although icky to some of us, are an absolute necessity to most bird species who feast on them throughout the year.

Sure, in most gardens, the idea of attracting bugs is something we often try to steer clear of with the use of pesticides and insecticides, but keep in mind that by working with the basic premise of permaculture (the use of diverse local plants), your garden should be able to manage itself with little need for intervention, since everything will remain in check with native animals who will naturally do their part in regulating this environment — And, on the topic of pesticides, it’s absolutely a no-no for songbird environments.

It’s also vital that you don’t over tend your garden. This means that leaving plants to die off and produce seeds is a must. Don’t dead-head or rake too often (the more natural, the better). However, if you feel the impulse to tidy up, rake leaves and dead brush into neat piles in a far corner of your yard.

When looking for plants, select ones that have different blooming times, since the most effective songbird gardens always have something in bloom and something seeding year-round. This is because along with the nutrients of insects, birds also rely on berries, fruits, and seeds throughout the year, generally opting for bugs in the spring and summer months, seeds in the autumn, and berries in the winter (since this is what’s mainly available to them).

Even if you provide all the right plants, adding a few bird feeders to your greenspace certainly doesn’t hurt, and will offer songbirds a reliable source of food. It may even help lure them to that bird oasis you’ve been working so hard on — Think of it as the cherry on top, or the proverbial carrot on a stick.

When incorporating bird feeders, keep in mind that different birds like different seeds, so try providing a wide variety for best results. It’s also suggested that a few offerings of well-placed fruit will sweeten the pot and is irresistible to most birds (and probably unwelcome squirrels, unfortunately).

Nesting

If you dream of coming upon a family of Robins and generally hope to attract songbird nests, then your best bet is to provide shrubs and trees that are thorny and dense in appearance. Birds of all kinds find this environment comforting and safe for laying eggs and rearing their young.

For a welcome addition, consider buying a birdhouse or DIY your own for some added character — if placed in the proper spot, birds will relish them.

Look to place birdhouses high enough to avoid most predators, and ensure it’s situated in a shady, well-sheltered, north-easterly direction for best results. And, if installing more than one birdhouse, it’s a good idea to keep them separated by a minimum distance of at least 25 feet, since birds like their privacy.

Remember Sylvester and Tweety? Well, keep this in mind next time you let dear old “Fluffy” into the garden since cats are a major cause of bird deaths — with their predatory hunting instinct, they simply can’t resist a good bird chase. Also, birds will not nest if they sense danger is present and will seek out another place to call home.

Water Source

The power of a birdbath, or any source of fresh slow-moving water, is always a great idea to add to any bird-friendly garden.

Keep in mind that birds prefer water that is clean as a whistle, and, unlike their nesting space, they prefer to bathe in sunny, open areas, where they can keep an eye out for danger.

A great spot to add a birdbath would be in the center of your garden, since this area is generally free from coverage, and is also a perfect spot to easily observe songbirds as they splash about and enjoy themselves.

Plants to Consider

Along with ensuring you choose native plant species, it’s a great idea to intermix a wide range of plants, such as vines, trees, tall grasses, shrubs, perennial and annual flowers, as well as fruit sources, since this will provide optimal food options throughout various seasons.

And, by selecting plants that thrive in different seasons, you’ll always have ample green coverage that’s ideal for birds to hide in during bad weather or from predators. It also comes in handy come breeding season.

Keep in mind, there are many, many options, but here are a few suggestions to consider adding to your garden as a start:

Flowers:

  • Thistle
  • Sunflowers
  • Echinacea
  • Blackeyed Susans
  • Goldenrod
  • Cornflowers

Shrubs:

  • Sumac
  • Elderberry
  • Blackberry
  • Mulberry
  • Chokeberry
  • Holly

Trees:

  • Pine
  • Juniper
  • Cedar
  • Crabapple
  • Oak
  • Maple

Note that this list is referring to areas of Northeastern North America, where these plants are native, so depending on where you live, you may need to adjust accordingly — but just keep in mind these 5 rules: Native, Seeds, Berries, Varied Seasons, and Coverage. If you do, you’ll be golden.

There’s nothing more lovely than a morning chorus of birds to welcome a new day, nor is there anything more peaceful than their evening song at dusk to set the heart at ease.

And, by hosting the perfect habitat for songbirds, you’ll be welcoming their poetic chorus of birdsong year-round, and at a wonderful reward — Simply open your windows and enjoy the sights and sounds of your labor.

Lastly, don’t forget to grab a good pair of binoculars!

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