Animal Writes
28 April 1999 Issue
Plants For Wild Birds

Seven types of plants are important for bird habitat:

Conifers are evergreen trees and shrubs that include pines, spruces, firs,
arborvitae, junipers, cedars, and yews. These plants are important as escape
cover, winter shelter, and summer nesting sites. Some also provide sap,
buds, and seeds.

Grasses and Legumes
Grasses and legumes can provide cover for ground nesting birds -- especially
if the area is not mowed during the nesting season. Some grasses and
legumes provide seeds as well. Native prairie grasses are becoming
increasingly popular for landscaping purposes.

Nectar-Producing Plants
Nectar-producing plants are very popular for attracting hummingbirds and
orioles. Flowers with tubular red corollas are especially attractive to humming-
birds. Other trees, shrubs, vines and flowers can also provide nectar for

Summer-Fruiting Plants
This category includes plants that produce fruits or berries from May through
August. Among birds that can be attracted in the summer are brown thrash-
ers, catbirds, robins, thrushes, waxwings, woodpeckers, orioles, cardinals,
towhees, and grosbeaks. Examples of summer-fruiting plants are various
species of cherry, chokecherry, honeysuckle, raspberry, serviceberry,
blackberry, blueberry, grape, mulberry, plum, and elderberry.

Fall-Fruiting Plants
This landscape component includes shrubs and vines whose fruits are ripe in
the fall. These foods are important both for migratory birds which build up fat
reserves prior to migration and as a food source for non-migratory species
that need to enter the winter season in good physical condition. Fall-fruiting
plants include dogwoods, mountain ash, winter-berries, cottoneasters, and

Winter-Fruiting Plants
Winter-fruiting plants are those whose fruits remain attached to the plants
long after they first become ripe in the fall. Many are not palatable until they
have frozen and thawed numerous times. Examples are glossy black choke-
cherry, Siberian and "red splendor" crabapple, snowberry, bittersweet,
sumacs, American highbush cranberry, eastern and European wahoo,
Virginia creeper, and Chinaberry.

Nut and Acorn Plants
These include oaks, hickories, buckeyes, chestnuts, butternuts, walnuts, and
hazels. The meats of broken nuts and acorns are eaten by a variety of birds.
These plants also provide good nesting habitat.


Think of this project as "landscaping for birds." Your goal will be to plant an
assortment of trees, shrubs, and flowers that will attract birds. If you plan
carefully it can be inexpensive and fun for the whole family. The best way to
get started is to follow these guidelines:

Set Your Priorities
Decide what types of birds you wish to attract, then build your plan around
the needs of those species. Talk to friends and neighbors to find out what
kinds of birds frequent your area. Attend a local bird club meeting and talk to
local birdwatchers about how they have attracted birds to their yards.

Use Native Plants When Possible
Check with the botany department of a nearby college or university or with
your Natural Heritage Program for lists of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers native
to your area. Use this list as a starting point for your landscape plan. These
plants are naturally adapted to the climate of your area and are a good long-
term investment. Many native plants are beautiful for landscaping purposes
and are excellent for birds. If you include non-native plant species in your
plan, be sure they are not considered "invasive pests" by plant experts.

Draw a Map of Your Property
Draw a map of your property to scale using graph paper. Identify buildings,
sidewalks, powerlines, buried cables, fences, septic tank fields, trees, shrubs,
and patios. Consider how your plan relates to your neighbor's property (will
the tree you plant shade out the neighbor's vegetable garden?) Identify and
map sunny or shady sites, low or wet sites, sandy sites, and native plants that
will be left in place. Also identify special views that you wish to enhance --
areas for pets, benches, picnics, storage, playing, sledding, vegetable
gardens, and paths.

Get Your Soil Tested
Get your soil tested by your local garden center, university, or soil conserva-
tion service. Find out what kinds of soil you have, and then find out if your
soils have nutrient or organic deficiencies that can be corrected by fertiliza-
tion or addition of compost. The soils you have will help determine the plants
which can be included in your landscaping plan.

Review the Seven Plant Habitat Components
Review the seven plant components that were described previously. Which
components are already present? Which ones are missing? Remember that
you are trying to provide food and cover through all four seasons. Develop a
list of plants that you think will provide the missing habitat components.

Confer With Resource Experts
Review this plant list with landscaping resource experts who can match your
ideas with your soil types, soil drainage, and the plants available through state
or private nurseries. People at the nearby arboretum may be able to help with
your selections. At an arboretum you can also see what many plants look like.

Develop Your Planting Plan
Sketch on your map the plants you wish to add. Trees should be drawn to a
scale that represents three-fourths of their mature width and shrubs at their
full mature width. This will help you calculate how many trees and shrubs you
need. There is a tendency to include so many trees that eventually your yard
will be mostly shaded. Be sure to leave open sunny sites where flowers and
shrubs can thrive. Decide how much money you can spend and the time span
of your project. Don't try to do too much at once. Perhaps you should try a
five year development plan.

Implement Your Plan
Finally, go to it! Begin your plantings and be sure to include your family so
they can all feel they are helping wildlife. Document your plantings on paper
and by photographs. Try taking pictures of your yard from the same spots
every year to document the growth of your plants.

Maintain Your Plan
Keep your new trees, shrubs, and flowers adequately watered, and keep
your planting areas weed-free by use of landscaping film and wood chips or
shredded bark mulch. This avoids the use of herbicides for weed control. If
problems develop with your plants, consult a local nursery or garden center.

And Finally...
Most of all, take the time to enjoy the wildlife that will eventually respond to
your efforts at landscaping for birds.

Go on to Celentano Vegetarian Selects
Return to 28 April 1999 Issue
Return to Newsletters

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