The songs saturating the air with happy chirps and calls. The colors flashing from fencepost to tree branch to trellis perch. The little summertime dances occupying open spaces in the garden. With all this to offer, it hardly seems necessary to justify why we might want to attract birds to the garden.
The reality is that attracting birds is already a big business. Birdfeeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses feature throughout neighborhoods across the United States and elsewhere. In the US alone, over $3 billion dollars is spent on bird food each year. That’s long before we get into the huge sums birders spend each year on spotting them.
The fact is, though, besides being beautiful to look at and listen to, birds are valuable allies in our vegetable plots, fruit orchards, berry patches, and flower beds. They play important ecological roles that ultimately benefit us, so for the following reasons, we should perhaps do what we can to benefit them.
Natural insect regulation
Lots of birds are insectivores. They flitter from fencepost to fencepost or skip across the ground in search of beetles, grubs, flies, aphids, caterpillars, and all sorts of creepy-crawlies that like to feed on our vegetable plants. Rather than spraying chemicals on our food, we could help create a balanced eco-system by inviting plenty of birds into the mix.
Amongst the many birds that will help with this endeavor, barn swallows, blue jays, and eastern bluebirds are good allies, as are American robins, cardinals, and chickadees. To help attract these birds, it’s good to plant seed-bearing flowers (like sunflowers), berries, and fruit trees. Blue jays, a smart and fierce assistant, love oak trees as well.
Source: Nat Geo WILD/YouTube
Other birds like to spend their foraging time in search of nectar, and like bees and butterflies, pollinate our plants as they do so. Incidentally, when birds pollinate plants, the technical term for it is ornithophily. Without pollination, we can’t go from flower to fruit, so this can mean the difference between getting a harvest or not.
Chief among these pollinating species, especially in North America, are the hummingbirds. Orioles are also great pollen-lovers. Some other specialized birds—Hawaiian honeycreepers and white wing doves (saguaro cacti in Arizona)—are scattered throughout the US. In Australia and other parts of the world, honeyeaters, sunbirds, spiderhunters, and honeycreepers are all pollinating birds.
As the billions of dollars on birdfeed (mostly birdseed) suggests, birds love to eat seeds. While this can be a little detrimental at specific times in the garden, for the most part, seed-scarfing birds will seek out dreaded weed seeds and help with that situation. We just have to protect our seeds when we direct sow in the garden.
The birds that are most helpful with weed-seed control are finches, towhees, and sparrows. To keep them coming around, be sure to plant sunflower, safflower, and other seeding flowers. Growing some grains, such as white proso millet, will help as well. It’s also good practice to let some of the garden plants, such as squash, provide some seed.
Natural rodent/reptile control
Source: Roberto Channel/YouTube
For the big-time bird-in-the-garden enthusiast, it might be interesting to play with attracting birds of prey, which can help controlling rodent and reptile populations. The problem, of course, is that birds of prey also quite enjoy eating the other birds included on this list. Nevertheless, healthy populations of everything do balance out the eco-system.
Birds of prey, in the same morbid way as sharks and big cats, are fascinating to watch. They are powerful, shrewd, and efficient killers. For those around waterways, osprey and eagles are likely allies, whereas grassland might be more open to hawks and kestrels. Owls love the forest. Smaller birds of prey, such as sparrow hawks and “sharpies”, are common garden visitors.
For those of us growing veganic gardens, with no animal products added to the mix, having lots of birds populating the garden is a natural way of adding manure—aka fertilizer—to the garden beds. In this case, the wild birds have voluntarily, even if unknowingly, participated in our soil amendment regime.
Not only does attracting a large variety of birds mean that we’ve increased the avian diversity in the garden, but also it likely means we’ve diversified the flora we are growing. By including sunflowers and safflowers for the seed-lovers and large red blooms for the pollinators (hummingbirds love red!), we’ve made our gardens more sundry.
In short, attracting birds to the garden is both good for us and for the wildlife. That’s before we even delve into what a pleasure the kaleidoscopic cacophony is to witness. Why, birds are good for the garden!
- 5 DIY Bird Feeders for the Home and Garden
- 5 Ways to Make Your Own Birdbath for the Garden (From Upcycled Materials)
- How (and Why) to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden
- Can a Bird Feeder in Your Backyard This Winter Benefit You and the Birds?
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