For Birds Instead of Bees

For Birds Instead of Bees

Dinner for somebody!

Master Gardeners toured the yard not long ago (intimidating! but fun!) and the big hit was: The Birds!

Birdsong greeted these gardeners when they arrived and continued throughout their time in the yard. Much of our plant selection has been based on what will attract and provide homes for our avian friends. Clusters of plants like Arrowwood Viburnum were selected specifically for their "thicketing" habits. So how successful has the strategy been?

The Regulars:

Blue Jays,

Brown Thrashers

(successfully fledged *3*), Cardinals, 

Carolina Chickadees

(successfully fledged this year), 

Carolina Wrens,

 Chimney Swifts, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Towhees (successfully fledged), Goldfinches, House Finches, House Wrens, Mockingbirds, Mourning Doves, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers,



Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Song Sparrows

, Tufted Titmice (successfully fledged) and White-Breasted Nuthatches.

Some of the others:

American Crows, Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, 

Eastern Bluebirds


Eastern Phoebe

, Juncos, Northern Flicker,

Pileated Woodpeckers


Screech Owl


Sharp-shinned Hawk

, Starlings, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker,

White-Crowned Sparrow

, White-Throated Sparrow.

Thorns are part of why birds love this hawthorn. Mockingbird must be shy.

I'm not telling a whole truth, of course. We were graciously complimented by the entire crew on the layout of our garden, the happy pollinators, the happy plants. But just what


we plant just for birds?

The first selections made were the new trees. We planted "Winter King" Hawthorne, crabapple, "Forest Pansy" red bud, American Holly, Chaste Tree, witchhazel and sourwood. And a little baby serviceberry. Of these, the hawthorne, crabapple and holly were intended to directly benefit the birds in relatively short order. All three provide fruit and cover, with the hawthorne and the holly providing the best nesting sites in the short term. In the long term, the sourwood is the only honest-to-goodness shade tree we added--when it has gained sufficient size, it will also benefit the birds. Only the "Forest Pansy" can be termed strictly ornamental, since its seeds are sterile.

Shrubs-- winterberry holly (7), maple leaf viburnum (3), arrowwood viburnum (3), "Diablo" ninebark (3), oakleaf hydrangea (2), doghobble (3), fothergilla (2), blueberries (3), red chokeberry (1), American beautyberry (1), mountain laurel (3) and wax myrtle (1) were added. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Here we get a lot of blurring of purpose, but the viburnums, blueberries, chokeberry, wax myrtle, beautyberry and hollies all pull a lot of weight in the wildlife garden for both pollinators and songbirds. Again, you get both food and shelter. The only missing ingredient for survival there is water.

Goldfinch on cutleaf coneflower.

While certain perennials, such as coneflowers, benefit birds directly, the greatest benefit for songbirds from a wealth of diversity in the perennial bed will be the attraction of insects. Without insects, you can only attract a very few birds. They need the protein insects provide to feed their young--even hummingbirds! So any plant that draws bees, flys and other pollinators above ground is sure to help the birds, as well. Creating a diverse, densely planted garden instead of a fossil fuel dependent lawn will create the healthier soil climate below ground to feed the birds though a greater variety of soil insects and other crawly things like worms.

For the birds, I'd say they would vote the "Winter King" hawthorne as their favorite new tree and the winterberry hollies as their favorite shrubs. (The bees also go gaga over the hollies.) This judgment is based on the number of species taking advantage of these particular plantings. The hardest-working perennial? Hands down, it's coneflower. At least at this time. Give the rest of our additions a couple more years to get established and it may be an entirely different story!

What works best for you of the additions you've made to your garden?

Out for a Stroll

Out for a Stroll