Make your garden "bird friendly" this winter

The Plant Man column for publication the week of 01/04/04 - 01/10/04 (740 words)
The Plant Man by Steve Jones www.landsteward.org
Make your garden "bird friendly" this winter
Birds and gardens. They just seem to belong together. A landscape without birds would be a sad place indeed. In fact, we take the presence of birds in our lives so much for granted that we hardly even notice them for the most part. They're just ... there. But we'd certainly miss them if they weren't!
Several readers of this column have sent me e-mail with comments or questions about wild birds in the garden, and I thought I'd start by talking about caring for birds during the cold winter months.
At this time of year, birds have three basic needs: food water and shelter. We can do quite a bit to provide for all three of those needs!
There are a number of good bird feeders available in specialty stores or from online sources. Some claim to be "squirrel proof" but for the most part I'd say "squirrel resistant" is a better description as the little guys seem capable of overcoming even the most ingenious obstacles!
Think carefully before you position your new bird feeder. If you like to watch the birds as they munch away, you'll obviously want to place the feeder where you can easily see it from your window.
Birds prefer to visit a feeder that is fairly close to a dense bush or two. This gives them a staging post where they can land before approaching the feeder. It also provides a nearby refuge in case they have to escape from a predator such a hawk or your neighbor's prowling cat!
It is a temptation to buy a sack of the cheapest possible bird feed at the supermarket. Feeds that contain a high proportion of cracked corn, milo and wheat are generally low cost, but aren't particularly desirable to a lot of birds. You'll tend to find a lot of spilled and uneaten beneath your bird feeder, and that can attract rats. Not such a good idea!
I find it's worth paying a little more and getting a sack of sunflower seeds which seem very popular with the birds who visit my garden! If you intend to attract a particular breed, you might want to consult a specialty store or look online. I found a long and very helpful article online at http://birdware.com/owbf.htm titled "Overview of Wild Bird Feeding" by Aelred D. Geis, Ph.D. If you go to my web site, www.landsteward.org and find this column under "The Plant Man" heading, you can click on a direct hot link to that article, which I highly recommend.
By the way, Dr. Geis advocates keeping bird feeders stocked year round, rather than just in winter, even though other sources of food are more readily available in the warmer months. If you enjoy seeing birds in your back yard, it sounds like a good idea.
At this time of year, I also hang cakes of suet from tree branches. I buy them ready-made, but it's fairly simple to make your own if you prefer. I found a number of recipes at http://www.birding.about.com and again, there's a direct link to that site from this column at my web site.
In addition to food, it is important that birds have clean, fresh drinking water available.
The best bird baths have a wide, shallow bowl, no more than three inches deep at the center. The bird bath can be as plain or as fancy as you wish: the birds won't mind either way! A friend of mine set up a "dripper" in his bird bath and says that birds seems to be particularly attracted to the sight and sound of the dripping water.
Check your bird bath regularly to make sure the water is clean. Leaves and other debris that fall into the bird bath quickly turn to slime, making the water unpalatable. When the temperature falls below freezing, add warm water to the bath several times a day.
Birds also need shelter, and I'll discuss various types of bird houses in a future column. Meanwhile, take a moment to check that your bird feeder is well stocked and the bird bath is clean and fresh!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send you questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived Plant Man columns, visit www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.
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I am thinking about planting a bird garden this spring in a now kind of ugly area of my yard at the back of the house near the alley. Stuff I am considering planting there:
Two kinds of amaranth Two kinds of millet Sunflowers (various kinds) Celosia (both the plumed kind and the cockscomb for looks) I was also thinking about putting a bird bath among the sunflowers so that they would have food and water.
I'd love to hear any other ideas on design, varieties of plants or experiences people have had.
mm
and for resources and

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water (dripping) is essential to pulling in birds. forget the little bird bath and go right for a bog garden which provides food and water. my mother also would cut up strips of cloth in spring and hang it out there for the nest builders. Ingrid

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ List Manager: Puregold Goldfish List http://puregold.aquaria.net / www.drsolo.com Solve the problem, dont waste energy finding who's to blame ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Unfortunately, I receive no money, gifts, discounts or other compensation for all the damn work I do, nor for any of the endorsements or recommendations I make.
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Those are good plants for the birds, and the water is a good additon, too. Where are you located? south, west, east, north? Others in your area would have some suggestons I am sure, for plants that would grow in your area. I suggest some plants that have berries for later in the fall/winter.
Be aware tho, mm, that you may very well become addicted, and soon your entire garden will be, literally, 'for the birds'!
Emilie Nor Cal
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Oops. Forgot to mention that I am in minneapolis, zone 4a. The space is in the northwest corner of the lot, not optimal but does get a good deal of sun especially in the afternoons. I'd love to do a bog garden, maybe that will be in future versions.
mm
snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (MLEBLANCA) wrote in message writes:

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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (mmarteen) writes:

Thanks mm, I thought I remembered you were North, but not sure. Why not add to your plants and have a "tall grass prairie garden"? First put in some Echinacea, Purple Cone Flower. Birds love the seeds. Then add a few grasses: Switch Grass, Panicum Indian Grass, Sorghastrum (beautiful) Big Bluestem, Andropogon Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis Maybe some Milkweed for the Butterflies You might even try Purple Prairie Clover, Petalostemon/Dalea It will add Nitrogen to the soil.
How do you feel about goldenrod (or how do your neighbors feel about it?) It does not cause hay fever. There are some really beautiful cultivars available now, and it is a great additon to the garden. Butterflies love it and birds eat the seeds. I have 3 kinds, of various heights.
Emilie Nor Cal
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[snip]>

I (hopefully) will have some purple coneflower coming back in another part of the yard. I will work through the list of grasses. I was actually thinking of red sorghum.

I am a little scared of goldenrod. It may not cause hayfever but at least the wild stuff that grows around here I am definitely allergic to. I will check out the cultivars though.

Thanks!
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:::sigh:::
No, Emilie, you really aren't. Goldenrod pollen is not wind pollinated, it needs bees and other pollinators to move around, it's too heavy. You are allergic to ragweed, that blooms at the same time yet is very inconspicuous, and is right next to the goldenrod (they frequently grow together). It's a shame goldenrod has such a bad reputation, I've even heard allergists make the same mistake.
Here is a link that'll help you identify ragweed: http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/ambel.htm
--
Ann, Gardening in zone 6a
Just south of Boston, MA
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(MLEBLANCA) writes:

Hi Ann Just to clarify things, the above is what I posted. I am sure that GR is not what casues my allergy. Yes, it is ragweed. TG we don't have it here in NorCal. I even demonstrate that it's OK by sticking my nose right in the flowers!! In fact, I have three kinds of GR in my prairie garden, and I love it.
Emilie
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (MLEBLANCA) expounded:

Ooops, posting before tea again <G> It was mmarteen I should have responded to...I thought you'd know the difference, Emilie!
--
Ann, Gardening in zone 6a
Just south of Boston, MA
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All these years I was sure it was goldenrod. This fall I will have to test myself.
mm
(MLEBLANCA) expounded:

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ugly
One thing you didn't mention was shrubs or trees for nesting sites. Birds seem to prefer dense foliage in shrubs for nests.The favorites in my yard are an overgrown, untrimmed forsythia (cardinal favorite), an althea that has dense foliage, a bridal wreath that is about five feet tall and as wide, and a couple of Japanese maples along with a holly that a brown thrasher nests in yearly. Bird nests are impossible to spot in any of these shrubs/trees unless you pull aside the foliage. We usually only realize there are nests in these when we hear a male singing or notice activity in and out of the plant as the parents gather food.
Birds also pick unusual spots. One was a pot of ivy on our front porch which a Carolina wren decided was the perfect nesting site. Yes, I watered the ivy from the bottom while the wren claimed it.
John
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wide,
which
ivy
Yeah, our neighbor had a robin build a nest in a hanging basket last year. You never know where they will choose! I didn't mention trees or shrubs because there are a bunch right nearby in the neighbors' yard mostly aspens but also an apple of some kind and a crab apple. There was even an elm that I didn't know about until it got chopped by the city this summer due to dutch elm disease. Our neighbor's lot is wooded--ours was pretty empty except for 3 very tall spruces in front. We've got a totally different ecosystem going on there, with a feeder, suet and heated bird bath this winter. Birds seem to love the shelter of the spruces, it is kind of like a mini evergreen forest. The back garden will be more like grassland/praire since it will be a little more exposed but with trees nearby.
mm
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If you have cats beware to keep any bird goodies high off the ground.
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