To attract birds, let nature take its course
Special to The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – Bird feeders may feed birds, but they also create problems.
Once birds discover that the feeders are filled with their favorite foods, feeders are very effective for attracting flocks. The issue is that feeders don’t attract birds only – and that not all aviary species coexist peacefully.
One way to control bullies is to add more bird feeders so that each winged variety has its own space. But, with the addition of more feeders, your yard becomes a collection of plastic tubes, metal boxes, wooden platforms, birdhouses and bare areas of lawn, detracting from the aesthetics of your landscape design.
Feeders also be appealing to cats, mice, rats, raccoons, chipmunks, deer, squirrels, owls, hawks, mockingbirds, crows and jays, most of them being predators, nuisances or at least bullies.
My preference is to create a landscape design without bird feeders and install flora to attract different varieties of birds. In many situations, it’s best to let nature take its course and enjoy the birds that are attracted to the natural food you plant for them.
Here are bird-attracting plants we like to include in our landscape designs:
Trees and shrubs
• Doublefile viburnum (plicatumvar. Itomentosum) provides dense cover for shelter and maroon-colored fall berries for feeding before winter. Migrating and non-migrating birds count on these shrubs.
• Linden viburnum (dilatatum) has horizontal branching habits that provide good nesting spaces and glossy red fruits that can persist into spring.
• Serviceberry (Am eIlanchier canadensis ) produces very tasty berries that you will have to compete for as they ripen from purple to black if you want to make a pie that rivals blueberry in flavor. It is an important food for at least 19 species of woodland birds.
• Common dogwood (Cornus florida) berries become edible starting in August. Since the berries are eaten by more than 86 species of birds, they are usually completely consumed by November.
• American holly (Ilex opaca) is a native plant that offers food and excellent shelter for many birds, including mourning doves, jays, robins, flickers, bluebirds and mockingbirds.
• Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) is a small, flowering tree that can grow to about 25 to 30 feet tall in full sun. It’s a thorny shelter for about 18 species of birds that nest in these trees until fall, when robins, cardinals, blue jays and cedar waxwings, among others, feast on their showy orange berries.
• Red chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia) will grow to about 2 to 3 feet high and 5 feet wide, providing red berries from late summer into late winter as a food source for cedar waxwing, brown thrasher and about 10 other feathered species.
• Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) has tasty berries on its reddish green stems in midsummer. The sweet blueberries are a challenge to protect from bluebirds, mockingbirds, robins, brown thrashers, woodpeckers and Carolina wrens, making it difficult to harvest some for your own use.
Perennials and annuals
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) flowers in late spring and summer and attracts goldfinches and native sparrows in midsummer when the purple flowers fade and their cone-shaped centers go to seed.
• Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) is the classic seed for bird feeders, but if planted in spring, the seed will create an impressive stand of sunflowers in summer and turn into bird feeders as the flowers fade and the seed ripens in late summer.
• Morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea) is grown more as a screen for birds to hide in, preen and relax without fear of being attacked. It’s a good nectar flower for hummingbirds.
• Zinnia (Z. elegans) is an old-fashioned flower that has been used to attract seed-eating birds such as goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees and sparrows.
• Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) attracts goldfinches, sparrows and juncos, among other meadow and prairie seed-eating birds.
• Flax (Linum perenne) is a goldfinch magnet. They love flaxseed as much as most birds like berries.
• Honeysuckle (Lonicera sulphurea) is one of the first plants that comes to mind when I think about attracting hummingbirds, but it also attracts catbirds, mockingbirds, robins, thrashers and thrushes.
• Purple gayflower (Liatris spicata) is a favorite on our property for seed-eating birds because it produces a large quantity of seeds and flowers that open gradually over a long period during summer.
• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) has a long flowering period and goes to seed as flowers fade from late August into September. Finches feed on the cone-shaped seed heads incessantly into fall.
• Beebalm (Monarda didyma) is a favorite of hummingbirds because it has the perfect size tubular flowers for nectar feeding. This native plant is a good choice to mix with taller hummingbird-attracting plants like native honeysuckle and morning glory.