Designing A Bird Habitat



A large hanging feeder and a snack of birdseed with garden berries mixed in.

If you decide to create a bird habitat as part of your personal garden ecosystem, bear in mind that there are responsibilities you need to commit to. It sounds wonderful if you have the time, money and thought to put into it. If not, it's better to just feed and watch the birds. I say this because the better my bird habitat becomes, the more work i need to do to keep the gardens well-designed to accommodate them and keep the birds, safe. And to protect my landscapes as well. 

I liken it to keeping your eye on a curious, adventurous 2 yr-old. Things you don't notice if you choose to feed and birdwatch, are quite evident when you develop a habitat especially for birds. The least of which, will be the commitment to keep the birdfeeders and birdbaths clean and filled. I've had so much pollen and algae to clean up this year, i grew weary of cleaning things every few days. Once you begin your habitat, and birds become used to where the food and water is, you need to keep it up, so that it's available to them all four seasons per year.

Birdseed gets expensive. I have several barn-type hopper feeders that hold 5-8 lbs. of seed. Pest birds like noisy Gackles, blackbirds and squirrels will eat you out of house and home, and the smaller birds won't get food unless you opt for feeders that deter large birds and squirrels. My birds love the birdbaths for drinking and splashing in. I've added solar fountains that fit in the bowls to move the water, and they love it. If you do use birdbaths, keep them filled all summer, and if you're unlucky enough to suffer through a heat wave, remember that very hot water in the birdbath is a bad thing. I add ice cubes or cold water during the hottest parts of the day. 

Birds have a routine once you start them on it, so you do have to remember that when feeding and providing necessities. Birds seem to be little garbage disposals and will eat a lot of the stuff humans are throwing out. I refer to this list first. 
Adding your throwaways will supplement the birdseed, save you a lot of money, and create a lot of interest in returning to your feeders.

Your gardening habits will change a little. I've had to do some creative planting and pruning to avoid cutting branches holding nests. Pulling out seedlings that inevitably sprout under feeders unless you have seed catchers on the ground.. (i don't use them because i'm opposed to attracting rodents). I do like to insert feeder poles inside receptacles or plants filled with only dirt or stones, so that I don't have to deal with it. If you have been successful in creating a habitat, your garden will contain plants for food and shelter. Removing these will require some thought. Birds live in or return to their safe havens and raise their young in these areas. 

Words of Wisdom....You will also begin to look before cutting and removing branches because if birds are nesting and breeding, they will protect their space. I know this because i've been chased across the yard by many a screeching robin and other large birds that thought i was threatening their babies when i forgot that wisdom. If you have berries growing for food, you may need to cover them with bird netting to protect them from hungry birds. I do not, as i have enough food in feeders and growing naturally on shrubs and plants to keep them satisfied. Birds also eat a lot of bugs, so they won't bother your stuff if your feeders are concentrated in an area away from your fruiting plants. I'm happy to say that I haven't been pestered by mosquitoes or aphids for years. My garden contains plants that will provide berries in the winter, when birds are foraging for food. Keep at least one birdfeeder filled and accessible in the winter. You shouldn't stop feeding or providing water once birds have gotten used to your source and decided to stay for the winter. I leave a fairly large amount of dead branches and brush around for their sheltering needs.

 

The Most Vicious Predator in Your Bird Habitat.... The Roaming Cat

Nuance and Suggestion in the Tweety and Sylvester Series

Indiscrimate cutting and removing of landscaping will give predators like feral 
and roaming pet cats a way to stalk and get at the birds and their babies.

We all know Parents of a roaming cat, or those who just feed feral cats outdoors, and here's the rant... 
You can scroll past it, if you like.

I feel awful when my birds are shredded to pieces by a cat. I feel guilty that I lure the birds here with food and shelter, and a place to breed. I have found little carcasses of birds that roaming cats manage to torture and place in my fountains as a prize that needs to be dealt with. They hunt for sport. I am diligently and sadly removing the poor little birds, whole or in part, and cleaning out my fountains and broken decor.

Unfortunately, I know from years of experience, that many cat parents can be told a 1000 times to keep their cats indoors or find a way to keep it confined outside in their own yards. The rest of us do not want your cat in our yards, as much as you'd like to think so. 
Science tells us that cats carry parasites. Another bonus.
This reasoning is 1000% ineffective, and you will hear 1000 different excuses. 
They will NOT do it. 

Even when i point out to the cat person that several of my plants, especially my lilies, will poison a cat if it eats any part of it, or licks pollen off itself later.....
They STILL will NOT do it...

The bag i left on your porch filled with little bird carcasses and feathers apparently did not work, either.

You are not kneeling in mulch soaked in cat pee.
Picking up dead birds part of your busy day.
You're not replacing hundreds of dollars worth of broken solar lights, light strings and decorative pottery that roaming cats have destroyed. Some pieces are handmade or vintage, and are irreplaceable. 
There's a 0% chance that you'll reimburse me for that. 

An unfair, and obvious truth, is that if i let my dog wander the property of others, she's be picked up by the doggie police and brought to doggie jail. And i'd have to pay a hefty  fine to get her back. Not so with the  gallavanting predator cat.


See the paragraphs above to read about destruction of the bird population by roaming cats.

You might have to save and care for little birds, when babies hatch and are kicked unceremoniously out of their nests before they can fly. There is about a 3-day gap between when Mama kicks them out and when the babies learn to lift off. I'd say at least one baby bird out of the brood will meet a bad end. They've fallen, flown into windows they can't see, or ended up attacked by a roaming cat hunting the area while the fledglings are only able flop around. Mama bird watches them while they learn, but most times cannot save them during that period of time. I am able to hear rustling in the garden where a baby is trying to flee or fly. I do pick them up and move them to a safe area if they're injured, within the plantings, where they have at least a chance against predators. I've fortunately had 100% success in relocating baby birds. There will be certain situations when you can't help. It's part of the dedication. Birds might be placed in a safe place, but they won't stay there, their flapping wings attract the predators,and there's not much you can do about where they end up. I would guess that maybe 50 percent of the brood will not make it. Often, eggs will fall out or be stolen from the nests.

Predators include large, aggressive birds. 
There is also a factor i didn't factor into my designs. My garden's decor and things needed in gardening, such as trellises, decorative fencing, and hanging things. I perform rescues on a regular basis of small birds who somehow get their heads or feet stuck in something ridiculous. I am available in the garden every day, but not every minute, and birds will end up hurt or worse. Short of removing these items, which i refuse to do because of their necessity as tools or structures, i do a garden check every evening to see what they've gotten into. It's amazing to me how much mischief a bird can get into. The meaning of the term "bird brain" is quite appropos. They're smart enough to remember where food and water are, but not how to keep themselves from getting stuck in something. I am, however, thoughtful about things like suet hangers, making sure they can't get their little claws stuck in the teeny space near the opening of the basket. I've rescued many small birds that I found hanging upside down with their toes caught in a space in the basket. It's not easy to get the squirming bird's foot out. There's a very real fear that you'll break or amputate something while trying. But you're not going to let a bird in a panic hang upside down for long. I now adjust everything to allow space for a little bird to get out of it.

Unwanted Birds in Your Habitat

Along with a beautiful and welcoming habitat, you will probably need to deal with unwanted, aggressive birds in your yard, stealing food, destroying decorative items, and making noise. Starlings are one of these species. They drive me to distraction sometimes. Usually arriving in flocks every single day until i keep the feeders empty for a while. 

"These are naturally aggressive birds that won't hesitate to injure or kill other birds as they seek out the best food sources and nesting sites. This can devastate more timid bird species and has had drastic effects on populations of some North American native birds. Starlings are fast, fertile breeders, with a single mated pair raising 2-3 broods each year, with each brood producing 5-8 new starlings to join the flock. This tremendous population growth and can lead to starlings quickly overtaking native species and causing extreme competition for limited resources." - The Spruce

Here's a good article about getting rid them. Discouraging Starlings From Your Yard


Design in multiple layers, just as Nature does. Main planting, understory, and vertical on stakes or trellises..

Select plants that will provide berries, seeds, and nuts during different seasons, and evergreens for winter shelters. I leave the tall, woody bare trees without pruning, and some brush is neatly, but naturally piled and available all winter for the birds. 

I know it sounds radical... Limit or eliminate your lawn for less mowing, fertilizing, watering, and pollution and to make more room for native species. I dug up front and backards by hand with a pitchfork on 2 properties, to eliminate grass. I planted a clover lawn, which is a great substitute, and eliminated grass in one garden altogether. Bees feel welcome in clover, as well.

I discovered a fake grass runner available at home improvement stores and Amazon, intended for training puppies to use grass, as a wonderful way to add grass without having to mow it. I put it in several areas (pathways) for my dog to use, instead of digging holes in the ground. They have little holes and a rubber back to keep moisture away. I like it myself for decorating little nooks in my gardens. Under tables and chairs sets and benches. It can be easily cut and using landscape staples keeps it just where you want it. It's washable with a hose, and permeable. It comes in varying lengths and widths. 

Plants For Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are an American bird species, found nowhere else in the world.

Plants below marked with a * tend to be a bit invasive if not grown in pots in my gardens. 
If you're covering a large, wild area as a habitat, that's a good thing.
Check the USDA Hardiness Map to be sure a plant will survive in your garden.
Peruvian Lily
Virginia Bluebells
Bee Balm -
also a bee and butterfly magnet
Hyssop
Hollyhock
Columbine
*Butterfly Weed
*Milkweed
Penstemon
Snapdragon
Canna
Fuchsia
Gladiola
Impatiens
Pentas
Sage
Salvia
Comfrey
Mexican Sunflower
Azalea
Daylily
Delphinium
Bleeding Heart
Foxglove
Gooseberry
Lilac
Viburnum
Mimosa
Currant
Snowberry
*Lantana
Tulip Tree
Crabapple
Black Locust
Clematis Vine - I grow these in large pots to avoid too much spreading
Beauty Bush
Honeysuckle- I grow these in pots at the base of fences and walls
Rhododendron
Abelia
Hibiscus
Coral Bells
Red-Hot-Poker
Liatris
Cardinal Flower
Phlox
Obedient Plant
*Raspberry -
spreads by shoots
*Trumpet Vine
*Trumpet Creeper
*Four-O'Clocks
*Morning Glory -
Too invasive for my garden. I cannot seem to get rid of this plant that is growing wild. It grows quickly on everything. including stems of other plants. I can't unwind all the tendrils. Big Pain in The Garden.
Zinnia
Flowering Quince
Nasturtium
*Buttonbush
Butterfly Bush
Witch Hazel
Rose of Sharon

Recreate a habitat that was once native to your area - woodland, wetland, etc. - which will attract birds native to those habitats. You can look up gardens in a particular era, and choose plants from that.

Scatter your areas for birdfeeders and birdbaths. I use raised bowls for birds who don't like hanging feeders or who prefer foraging on the ground. Birdfeeders and baths are used all day in my gardens. And every tree has nesting birds, breeding their families. They do use the birdbaths for drinking and splashing. My birds use it mostly early in the morning and early evening. Some wait patiently on line for their turns.. My solution is to have 4 in front yard, 4 or more in the backyard. I always manage to have a birdbath crack from cold weather or just because. I use them on or off their pedestals and fill with birdseed. Water doesn't rot the seeds, because it's cracked and the water drains out. I also unscrew the damaged tops from bases, and fill them with soil and succulent plants as a display piece here and there. I'll use the bottom to hold up other flat planters or bowls. Nothing goes to waste here.

hummer artwork by Audobon.

 

If you'd like to design a bird and butterfly habitat, 
feel free to download these garden designs in .pdf format to help.

Just click the pics to begin downloading the .pdf format design. 
Designs include a larger version of the illustration, 
suggested plants, and planting guide

This is a pretty design for a habitat area, too. Just multiply the plan or double its size.
click to download

 


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