|Wild Bird Habitat
By Pat Thompson, Horticulturist/Consultant
No Nonsense Horticultural Services
San Ramon, California
Wild bird habitat shrinks every day -- both globally and locally -- and many species of
birds have exhibited frightening declines in numbers, even over the past several years.
Creating a landscape desirable to birds is not difficult, but requires some understanding
of natural habitat. A typical tidy suburban landscape with a closely mowed lawn surrounded
by a line of sheared shrubs of all the same species provides little interest to wild
birds. A diverse landscape is more naturalistic and provides attractive habitat for a
great variety of birds. When creating a bird habitat, certain needs must be provided for:
1. Cover plantings -- for foraging, nesting sites, and protection from
predators. These plantings should be dense (they can be thorny) and allowed to grow in
their natural form. Hedging and shearing discourages nesting birds, depletes
surplus/leaves needed for nest building, and removes flower and fruit food sources. Cover
plants should be located close enough (within 15 to 20 feet) to bird feeders to provide
quick protection from predators, yet far enough away so they do not provide "ambush
sites" for cats. Dead trees or snags, which provide much needed nesting and food
storage sites for many endangered species of birds are in real shortage in our
meticulously maintained landscapes. If there is a dead tree in your yard that is not a
hazard or eyesore, why not grow a vine around it and leave it for the birds?
2. Water -- necessary for drinking and bathing, which are essential to
a bird's health. We find water, especially moving water, the single most important factor
in attracting new species of birds to a site. There are numerous types of birdbaths, from
the very basic puddle of water on the ground to elaborate sculptured baths and fountains.
The birds don't seem to care about aesthetics, so select something that pleases your own
tastes and practicalities. When constructing or purchasing a birdbath, there are a few
important features to look for: edges that slope gradually (many birds will not use a bat
that drops off sharply on the sides) and surfaces with a rough texture for sure footing
(verses slippery surfaces such as plastic and smooth concrete). Put your bath either on
the ground or on a pedestal within 15 or 20 feet of quick cover or under a tree -- a wet
bird cannot make as quick a getaway! (Domestic cats, in my experience, rarely catch
healthy birds even if the birdbath is at or below ground level.) Add moving water, if at
all possible. We have had great success with some of the more ornate recirculating
fountains by simply adding gravel to one of the tiers to create a shallow wading area.
Just think of how many times you've observed wild birds happily flapping about in a mud
puddle and try to recreate that experience in your birdbath.
3. Food -- there are feeders available to please the most
discriminating birds. East Bay Nature also has plenty of good information on which feeders
work best in our locality, as well as the most effective feeder placement. Different birds
forage at different heights, and bird species have individual tastes in seed, suet, fruit,
nectar, and home made concoctions. Display and placement of food also affects the types of
birds you may attract. Bear in mind that your neighborhood ecology and bird migration
patterns have the greatest influence on which birds you might entice. But with our cover
and water, the species of birds you attract will be very limited.
A properly planned landscape provides a wonderful habitat for wild birds and people. It
can also be low maintenance, drought tolerant, colorful, self sustaining, and a beautiful
addition to your home. For more information on landscaping for birds, drop by East Bay