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In the garden: Design challenge: Attracting birds

I have labelled the area of interest "1."

Area 1 gets partial morning sun (trees are in the way) and partial late afternoon sun (peeking round a building). There's more of it outside the photo, in the direction of the "Etc." arrow.

The challenge: I would like to attract more birds to my area. And I remember Nipper's Dad saying that "birds like a mess," and places to nest. So here are my thoughts on how to get to that point.

I picture birds nesting in the bushes. But what kind of bush? If I can figure that out soon, I could order some from Fedco for spring delivery. (I don't like evergreens -- that tree I hate is an evergreen -- and I don't like those bushes with spikes and red berries. And I don't like scraggly.

Then, in front of the bushes, I can make a mess for the birds; anything I pull out of the ground can go there and rot, instead of the compost bins, especially branches and twigs in the spring.

And then I put some flowers in front of the whole thing, but it occurs to me now that the drawing is done, that I should just make that a solid bed of wildflowers.


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nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Though I do believe that you are missing out on the opportunities that evergreens provide year-round. They form a backdrop; good for structure and screening, produce bird food and shelter for both bird and house, and some color in the winter is good for the soul.....There is a lot to be said for them.

And everything is scraggly until it grows in.

I have thrown just about everything that will grow into our hedges, mixing evergreen and deciduous, berrying and flowering, and it has become a haven for the birds all year round. Were you to call your Native Plant Society they could give you a good bird mix of shrub suggestions suitable to your area. The main thing is that it become virtually impregnable...or as I like to put it, a real mess...

Submitted by lambert on

As you can see, it's got lilacs, but they are very late bloomers (not even sun, I guess) and birds don't nest there. And the great attraction of lilacs, the fragrance, doesn't obtain when they are so far away from my normal walking path in zone 0. So I would be happy either to put them down, or put more bushes in front.

In fact these lilacs are so "out of sight, out of mind" that I forget even to include them in my diagram!

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Submitted by lambert on

I see the logic of what you say, but there is just something about the shape of this kind of evergreen that I just dislike. They just seem to scream bedragglement -- which is odd, since I'm continually taking photographs of rotting plants. Perhaps it's that they are just green; no flowers, no cones, no cycle of any kind.

How remarkable that there's an institution called the "Native Plant Society!"

Adding: Blueberries is brilliant. I think the idea then should be to start there, and build out around them. I assume birds like them, because berries!

Adding also: I see the idea of how to make the bushes impregnable. But as you know, my desk is in the garden area as well. Is there a zone of the non-human for birds? Should I be six feet away? Twenty? One reason I think it makes sense to optimize this area for birds is that it is in fact not in my Zone Zero; I don't walk there. But the avian sense of space may differ from the human.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I never kill off anything (that is not an invasive!) that is not happy, I let it do its' thing, or not, and just put more stuff in around them. Dying bushes tend to attract bugs, which attract birds. Once they are too far gone they will rot, which will build your soil.

But I have a lot of space, so your mileage may differ.

That said, I would leave the lilacs; they tend to turn into a thicket after a while anyway, which is what you want. Mix in something else here and some point the birds will start to plant their own additions...pretty soon you have an impregnable bird fortress, especially were you to put in some evergreens (of any type) to render it more opaque in winter. Which gets to your point about the personal space of birds; they have none! You can get right up against them and they will not budge if they know that their retreat "into the wild" is assured.

In fact, there are times of the year when one cannot get within ten feet of our hedges because the mockingbirds who live there will line up for the opportunity to attack you! Well worth the risk, though, when you hear fifty of them singing their little hearts out from dawn to dusk in the spring and summer. Even now, we are still awaking to birdsong! Far more likely would be that you would end up with them "fertilizing" your desk rather than running away where you cannot see them.....

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Most NPS's are pretty inexpensive to join; ours is around twenty bucks per year. The neatest thing about them are the plant rescues! Somebody is building something and the society gets in there and rescues all of the natives, and you get to keep what you rescue!

The people are awesome and the rescues can be a lot of fun. You might want to look into it.

Submitted by lambert on

That might be fun, since the lilacs bloom in the spring and then do nothing. But then the blueberries would take over.

I like the "impregnable fortress" concept.

jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

If you plant blueberries you'll need the needles from the evergreen for the soil around the BBs. They like high acid soil. I've been trying to grow them for about 8 months without success, just not meant to be in my part of Calli.

Submitted by lambert on

... but possibly the evergreens would do that? I think I need to look at the site again. And possibly there's some sort of evergreen I can stand to look at. I should look at the Fedco tree sale.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I doubt that any single entity in our hedges would be a prime specimen just because of the nature of the way they were grown. They are too crowded and their growth is going to be pretty Darwinian. However, taken together, they are quite beautiful in all seasons just because of their diversity: magnolias and sasanquas pushing out of hollies and rhododendrons; Japanese cherries and hawthorn over beautyberry, forsythia and quince. Some euonymous manhattan, pieris, azalea, mountain laurel and Florida anise......

IOW, just about anything I could find on sale, swap or propagate.

I wouldn't get too caught up in whether or not one is in love with any one species when, after all, it is the tapestry you are after.

mitzi muffin's picture
Submitted by mitzi muffin on

nippersdad is correct, you need to speak to your local experts so the shrubs/trees will be natural to your area. And I think wildflowers would be beautiful. Also, walk bike around town to see what you like. Good luck!