Gardening is For the Birds: Part Two

In this second part of her guest post on bird feeding, University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rosanne Sherry, explains what we should plant to attract birds, and which plants we should stay away from. And yes, I, Dirtynailz, took the photos.

Birds like this female cardinal like branches they can perch on.

Appetizing choices

Along with the typical feeding station fare explained in Part One of this post, shrubs and trees in the home landscape will supplement the birds menu. Trees that furnish fall and winter berries include the dogwood, Sargent  crabapple, hawthorns, cherry, holly, red cedar, hackberry, mountain ash and mulberry. Blue, red and white spruce and white pine offer food and shelter.

Many native and cultivated shrubs will also attract birds during the fall and winter.  American cranberry (viburnum family), elderberry, blueberry, chokeberry, sumac, winterberry or holly family, cotoneaster, northern bayberry, blackberry, privet, rosa rugosa, snowberry and Amur honeysuckle are good choices. Evergreens like Japanese yews, pines, junipers and hemlocks give winter shelter. Vines such as Boston ivy and Virginia creeper supply fruit through the winter as well. Some plants may be difficult to find in retail nurseries.

A white breasted nuthatch

Problems in Paradise

Unfortunately, some plants commonly on bird landscaping lists are also considered exotic invasives that are crowding out native plants all across RI. Plants that should be controlled or eliminated from your yard include autumn and Russian olive, Japanese barberry, Norway maple, Tartarian honeysuckle, bittersweet and burning bush.

Japanese barberry and burning bush are crowding out endangered species in the woods of URI’s W. Alton Jones campus in West Greenwich. Bittersweet grows so rampant that in a few short years it can completely engulf a tree. Norway maples are crowding out the native red and swamp maples and shading lower story trees and shrubs. Plant police are already in evidence in states like Florida and California. They will actually fine a homeowner if certain invasive plants are found in the yard.

White-throated, song and house sparrows swarm a seed block.

The Canadian and Carolina Hemlocks, both native to New England, are suffering from an insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid. This critter has been attacking native stands of hemlocks from the Virginias northward. It is prevalent throughout RI. Ironically, birds are considered a prime carrier of the insect to the trees. Hemlocks are ideal bird plants. They provide food, nesting and cover for a wide range of migrant and resident birds throughout the year. Cardinals love their loose evergreen boughs to build their nests. I’ve had succeeding families of robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, mourning doves and blue jays all in the same season in my old hedge. I removed the hedge. It was like killing an old friend. It did not have the adelgid, but it was severely stressed after several years and a good candidate for the adelgid.

But don’t let these problems deter you from attracting birds to your yard. Just be aware of them as you plan your gardens for the birds.

This rumpled fledgling mourning dove spent some time on the hood of our car.

Don’t forget to provide water for the birds all year round. Bird baths, small ponds and streams will keep birds nearby. Birds are one of the gardener’s best friends. Cultivate their friendship and you will be rewarded.

Bird Watching in Cyberspace

Bird watching rivals gardening as America’s #1 hobby. So, what does a computer savvy birdwatcher do when not out in the field? Go online looking for more information about birds. A short trip on the superhighway with some search engines, a birder can find a few good stops to share their birding experiences. The following is a brief list from a recent trip in cyberspace.







About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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3 Responses to Gardening is For the Birds: Part Two

  1. Andy Brown says:

    Very useful information – I wish more people planted with their animal neighbors in mind. Something else to consider is native grasses and wildflowers. My father has gotten very active in Pennsylvania at planting native meadows and it’s amazing how active those areas can get. Seeds and insects for the birds, but you have to be tolerant of a certain amount of “weediness”.


    • dirtynailz says:

      Thanks, Andy. You make a good point. The wildflower meadow behind our house was a very “birdy” place. Too bad they cut the whole thing down in the fall. People just don’t get it.


  2. Yes, Andy’s Dad obviously gets it!! Even just a small patch of the backyard left unmown for the summer can attract a few extra species!! But you have to accept a little ugliness. Just get rid of the neighbors and keep the critters!!!


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