Regardless of the time of year, I enjoy hearing the gentle song of the cardinal, our state bird, filling the air. It always makes me pause and take a moment to scan the trees and see where this beautiful song is coming from. Sometimes it almost feels like the birds are singing just for me and while I enjoy their beauty they bring to my yard they serve a much more important purpose in the garden.
Birds are great to have around because they eat a lot of bad bugs. Cardinals, for example, eat grasshoppers, snails, and the dreaded stink bug! Even the simple sparrow lends a hand by eating caterpillars and beetles. These insects help the birds feed their young and the birds help keep these insects from making a meal out of your garden! These days we hear a lot about a decline in bee populations and birds also help out the bees by pollinating your flowers and vegetables. Finally, have you ever wondered how that flower that you enjoyed last year ended up on the other side of the yard this year? You guessed it; the birds probably helped transport the seed of that plant to its new home.
At this time of year our feathered friends need a little love and TLC and as gardeners, there are things you can do to help the birds during the long winter months.
Here is how you can help out:
- The first thing you can do is help provide them with food. You can, of course, do this by setting up bird feeders and filling it with seed or throwing bread out on the lawn for the birds to eat but why not grow plants that can feed the birds? Many birds are seed eaters and I’ve fed goldfinches in my yard year after year by growing coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. When these flowers ripen into a seed pod the finches go to town on them! You can also grow shrubs and trees, such as Holly and Dogwood that bear berries that the birds will happily devour.
- Just like all living things the second thing that birds require is water. Bird baths, fountains and ponds not only look nice but they also provide the water needed by the birds. There are heaters available that can keep the water from freezing during the winter or on warmer days you can set out pans of water for them to drink.
- Lastly, birds also need cover for nesting purposes and for protection from the weather. Shrubs such as Yew and Azalea or trees such as Hemlock and the Blue Spruce provide shelter and nesting sites that will attract all types of birds to your yard. Using plants and trees native to your area is a good way to ensure that you provide plenty of resources for the birds. You can also put that used Christmas tree in the garden and birds can use it as a temporary shelter during the winter months.
Birds play a vital and important role in the health of our environment. If you would like more information about attracting birds to your yard the Audubon Society website, is a great resource for all things related to our fine feathered friends.