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Monday, January 16, 2012

Gardening for Birds in the Winter

When we moved into our house, one of the first things I did was attack the yew bushes that were the only plant in our flower gardens.  I ended up leaving one yew bush for privacy until I could find a great evergreen native plant that will offer the same privacy around our porch as the yew bush.  As I'm searching for a plant large enough to do it's job, I spend many a day giving the yew bush the hairy eyeball.  

This weekend however, I found new respect for the yew bush I so desperately want to remove.   Many of the sparrows that visit my feeder would quickly dash into the yew for cover whenever they felt pressure from nearby, which happens quite often with the flyovers from the "sharpies".  (see earlier post about id tips between Sharp Shinned Hawks and Coopers)

This brings me to my real message today which is not a rant on why yew bushes irritate me, but gardening for birds in the winter.  A few good tips to keep in mind:  
  • Fruit eating birds LOVE BERRIES.  These plants gave us vibrant color in the fall, and now those brilliant berries are still persisting:  
    • Ilex verticillata (Winterberry), Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry),  Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry) and Vaccinium corymbosum (Blueberry)
    • **As a side note, my landscaper friend complains that verticillata and arbutifolia are too "messy" but I say birds love them so plant accordingly!!
  •  Cover is always important for birds in the winter.  Bird feeders tend to be great targets for our raptors, so we have to at least give the little guys a fighting chance. Tall native grasses make for great cover: Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem), Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) and Bouteloua curtipendula (Side oats grama).  As I found out, any shrub will do, but the grasses will also give the birds some extra food if snow hits (if it ever does!)
    • North Creek Nurseries is coming out with a new very upright little blue that will be great for your garden.
  •  An unfrozen source of fresh water is essential for any bird.  Usually most of the natural sources of water will freeze during the winter months, so birds are searching for anything.  Heated bird baths or a moving water feature that does not freeze are a great asset to your yard.

I think you'll notice that I tend to drone on about the same plants.  It just so happens that for birds and color, these are all great plants!! As "food for thought" if you pardon the pun, research has shown that chickadees only get 25% of their food intake from bird feeders in the winter, that means they are out foraging in the wild for the other 75%.  I would guarantee that they are not the only bird out there using this approach, so this is all the more reason for continuing to plant native!


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