making a garden for the birds
60-ISH SPECIES OF BIRDS visit my Zone 5B garden most years, apparently agreeing with me that it looks pretty appealing. Some are fair-weather friends; others visit only in the cold, but there is always something to attract someone.
I have the birds to thank for what is now a four-season garden, but aesthetic success was not my plan, or at least not a conscious one when I began digging holes 30 years ago on an overgrown, bramble-infested bit of land in Columbia County, New York. My 365-day garden style was actually a happy side effect—a total serendipity—precipitated by my love of birds, as I explained to the public-television program “Growing a Greener World” in their 2014 episode featuring my garden (video above; details on their site here).
Because birds’ needs vary seasonally, I unintentionally fell in love with plants that do more than flower momentarily. The genus Viburnum, for instance, became one of my original loves, as I sought summer, fall and even winter fruit to sustain avian visitors who were raising families, traveling onward, or staying warm—and got good fall foliage and springtime flowers, too. It was from such plants that I learned that the garden was willing to show off year-round, and also attract the maximum number of birds, if only I helped with a few strategic decisions. (My 365-day garden philosophy is detailed here.)
my top stories about gardening with birds
- I know what birds like: 11 most important things I do to make them at home.
- How to be a good bluebird landlord (no, not just any birdhouse will work!).
- Why I leave dead trees standing as wildlife “snags.”
- Birdsong (or “birding by ear”), with help from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- A 101 on raptors, with expert Pete Dunne.
- An intimate look at feathers, with help from Cornell Lab of O.
- Some annual vines the hummingbirds like in my garden.
- The archive of my collaboration with BirdNote public radio (details below).
- My entire archive of Bird Sh-t.
my series with the public-radio show birdnote:
- Week 1: How do birds make themselves at home—even in winter?
- Week 2: hummingbird migration, and on flying in formation.
- Week 3: on daring behavior, such as when a mob of small birds chase after a bigger one, or a woodpecker drums on a house.
- Week 4: whether birds mate for life, and how long they live.
- Week 5: What senses birds of prey use to hunt.
- Week 6: Bird houses, or nest boxes.
- Week 7: Bird songs and calls! What you’re hearing.
- Week 8: The complex nests of songbirds.
- Week 9: Crow, or raven?
- Week 10: The biggest bird nests of all.
- Week 11: Fledging, when young leave the nest.
- Week 12: Why the “dawn chorus” quiets in midsummer
- Week 13: Hummingbird migration.
- Week 14: Fall chores (nestbox and feeder care and more).
- Week 15: What “our” birds do in winter.
- Week 16: Wild turkeys.
- Week 17: The indefatigable brown creeper.
- Week 18: What birds eat.
- Week 19: The antics of baby birds.
- Week 20: Christmas Bird Count (on holiday cards and in yards).
(Bird doodle by Andre Jordan for A Way to Garden.)