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ATTRACTING BIRDS

Every year, millions of Americans discover the pleasures of attracting birds. Birds add color, liveliness and music to our gardens in all seasons.

Food, water, protective cover, and a sheltered place to raise their young are the basic requirements to attract birds. For most birds, plants are an essential element in determining where they spend their time. The selection of plants and their arrangement in the landscape are important in making a bird feel at home.

The high-energy mainstays of any bird feeding program are a source of grains and seeds. Also necessary is grit. Birds have no teeth, and rely on fine particles of grit in the gizzards to grind up hard seeds. Commercial grit or coarse sand can be used.

Suet is the tastiest, least expensive, and most readily available source of animal fats for birds. It is popular with nearly all birds in winter, especially when mixed with seeds and other tidbits. Suet begins to melt at about 70 degrees F and quickly turns rancid and should only be used in winter months.

A reliable source of fresh water is an essential ingredient in attracting birds. Birdbaths should be hosed off and refilled often and checked daily during hot weather. Never add chemicals to control algae or insects or to prevent freezing. Water should be used in all seasons.

Birdhouses of specific shapes and dimensions attract specific birds.

Linda Whetsell, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


TIPS FOR ATTRACTING BIRDS

READ as much as you can about the habits and needs of birds in your area.

OFFER clean, fresh water at all times.

ELIMINATE nuisance birds by cutting back on their favorite foods. Pigeons, for example, are less of a problem if you do not offer cracked corn.

KEEP all your bird feeders well stocked through the early spring when natural food sources are in limited supply.

LOCATE feeders near the edge of a shrub or flower border so that even shy birds will feel welcome.

EXPERIMENT with different types of food to see what bird species you can attract. Avoid birdseeds that contain milo and wheat. These foods are fillers and a waste of money. If the birdseed is millet, this will attract doves and sparrows, but not songbirds.

Suzanne Gates, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


A BIRDWATCHER'S GARDEN

Our area has many species of birds that either live or visit here. As you plan the landscaping in your yard, create a garden that will keep wildlife in the plan. Your garden can be a smorgasbord of bird-tempting trees, shrubs, vines, native plants, and flowers.

One of the first steps is to enhance the native vegetation with fruit-bearing shrubs and vines. Flowering shrubs and vines are ideal for the wildlife garden because their spring flowers feed the insects and, in turn, attract the birds. The fall berries are also irresistible to the birds. Vines offer cover and food for a wide assortment of wildlife in the garden.

Plant a variety of shrubs that bear fruit at different times during the late summer and fall. Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea) berries are generally eaten by only the local birds during the middle of winter when all other tastier fruits have disappeared.

Listed below are a few suggested trees, shrubs, vines, and annuals/perennials that should grow well in our area and will attract birds to the garden:

TREES:

  • Holly 'Nellie R. Stevens'(Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens')
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca)
  • Dogwood (Cornus florida)

SHRUBS:

  • Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea)
  • Holly (Ilex cornuta, 'Nellie R. Stevens,' or Burford)
  • Cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana)
  • Viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum)
ANNUALS/PERENNIALS:

  • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus, Cosmos sulphureus)
  • Salvia (Salvia farinacea, Salvia leucantha, Salvia greggii)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

VINES:

  • Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)
  • Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia)

With these plants in your garden, you will surely attract a large variety of birds that will bring you many hours of bird-watching joy.

Suzanne Gates, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


DON'T FORGET YOUR FEATHERED FRIENDS

Birds are a colorful accent in the winter landscape. They flit among the branches of trees and shrubs seeking food and shelter. Gardeners can help their feathered friends through the winter by providing food and water.

Bird feeders should be located in a sheltered area, allowing birds a place of quick retreat to escape from predators. Birdbaths, likewise, should not be placed out in an entirely open area.

A mixed menu of black sunflower seeds, sometimes called oil seeds, white millet, and corn will attract cardinals, finches, titmouse, chickadees, and juncos. Mourning doves and other ground-feeding birds will also visit your site to search through the crumbs on the ground.

Water is equally important to the winter survival of the birds. Some birds suffer more from lack of water than from food. Birdbaths provide a wonderful unfrozen water supply in winter. Place a birdbath away from any feeders to avoid the water's being contaminated. Rinse a birdbath daily before refilling it and clean it once a week.

During potentially freezing weather, you can use a birdbath heater that has a built-in thermostat to warm the water just enough to keep it from freezing. The water will attract a wide variety of birds, including those just passing by on migration.

Our feathered friends will provide interest and activity to your winter days and, come spring, will begin anew to feast on the insects in your yard, thus returning the "favor" for your winter care.

Sue Clark, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


PLANTING FOR THE BIRDS

Do you want to increase the bird population in your garden? Then select plants that offer a delicious banquet and say, "Welcome" to our feathered friends.

The lovely purple fruit of American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and white fruit (C.a. var. lacteal) are favorites of Carolina wrens. These deciduous shrubs prefer partial shade and should be cut back, after birds have feasted, to within inches of the ground. Their showy fall harvest of berries will ring the stems of new wood the following year.

Cedar waxwings will clamber for the stunning red-orange berries of your Possumhaw Holly (Ilex decidua) in February and March. Be sure to select a female version of this small tree, as the males do not produce fruit. This plant thrives in full sun.

Remember your grandmother's jam or perhaps your granddad's special elderberry wine? They had to beat the birds to the harvest as this lovely shrub attracts more than forty species, including woodpeckers, bluebirds, robins, cardinals, mockingbirds, and titmouse. The elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a large sun-loving shrub with creamy blossoms in early to late summer and purple-black berries in the fall. It looks best in naturalized settings at the edge of a meadow or woodland.

As the berries ripen, be sure to pause and watch your aerial acrobatic friends say "Thank you" as they fly away fully satisfied with their feast. Believe me, they'll be back.

Cezanne Barnes, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


A BIRD FRIENDLY YARD

Attracting birds is one goal of many gardeners, along with having a beautiful yard and garden. Shelter, food, and water are the basics in attracting birds to the back yard.

Shelter can be in the form of bird houses or protective trees and shrubs. One such shrub, which does double duty as shelter and food, is American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana L.). There are many others which serve the same purpose. Other sheltering plants that have proven to work in my yard are Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis) and Caroline Jessamine (Gelsemium). Bird houses come in many shapes and varieties, from the home made to the elaborate store bought. They should be placed in an area where predators can not readily get to the house. Bird feeders can supplement the plants that naturally attract birds. Place them in or near the flower garden so they are partially protected. Bird also need a source of fresh water for drinking as well as splashing about and bathing, so bird baths are an ideal addition to your garden areas. Bird baths should be refilled daily and cleaned each week.

Providing the basic needs for birds will attract them to your yard and provide many hours of entertainment enjoying nature just out your back door.

Jean Smith, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


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