Na­tive tree species will get birds tweet­ing

Regina Leader-Post - - HOMES - DEAN FOS­DICK

Food, wa­ter and shel­ter are the ba­sic re­quire­ments for at­tract­ing birds to your yard. But you can boost the num­ber and va­ri­ety of species that visit by tak­ing an ad­di­tional land­scap­ing step: learn­ing the birds’ pref­er­ences.

“Bird­scap­ing ” plants should be cho­sen to pro­vide food and shel­ter year round, said Leonard Perry, hor­ti­cul­ture pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus with the Univer­sity of Vermont.

“Na­tive plants should be a ma­jor com­po­nent, as they pro­vide a huge food source for birds, es­pe­cially in­sects which have co-evolved with them,” Perry said. “Ninety-six per cent of ter­res­trial bird species de­pend on in­sects — and lots of them.”

Many land­scapes now con­tain rel­a­tively few na­tive plants, per­haps no more than 25 per cent, he said.

“A goal of gar­den­ers should be to in­crease this per cent, to per­haps as high as 75 per cent na­tive plants to 25 per cent in­tro­duced plants,” Perry said. “Even a mod­est in­crease in the num­ber of na­tive plant species in a land­scape can in­crease greatly the num­ber of bird species and over­all num­bers of birds.”

A va­ri­ety of land­scape plants is im­por­tant when cre­at­ing wildlife habi­tat.

“Di­ver­sity breeds di­ver­sity, and it is a big­ger re­la­tion­ship than just be­tween bird and plant,” said Rhi­an­non Crain, pro­ject leader of The Habi­tat Net­work for the Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy. “It is a love tri­an­gle of sorts be­tween plants, in­sects and birds.”

Many mi­grat­ing songbirds pri­mar­ily eat in­sects, she said. That’s why they mi­grate — in­sect pop­u­la­tions dis­ap­pear dur­ing the cold months, so birds must move south to places where in­sects are al­ways avail­able.

“That means the more of those kinds of plants you have around, the more likely you are to have a di­ver­sity of in­sects that spe­cial­ize on them,” Crain said. “And more in­sects mean more kinds of food for more kinds of birds.”

Plants sup­ply­ing cover in­clude dense va­ri­eties with many twigs pro­vid­ing nest­ing sites, plants of var­i­ous heights, and groups of conifers for roost­ing and pro­tec­tion from chilly win­ter winds.

“Any­thing ever­green pro­vides good shel­ter, but if it has a berry on it, all the bet­ter,” said Julie Janoski, plant clinic man­ager at The Mor­ton Ar­bore­tum in Lisle, Ill., about 40 kilo­me­tres west of Chicago.

“For ex­am­ple, ju­niper berries are a favourite of cedar waxwings,” she said. “Many plants, such as ju­niper, crabap­ple and ser­vice­berry, will at­tract a wide va­ri­ety of birds.”

And don’t for­get the ac­ces­sories. Birds also need wa­ter and pro­tected places to live, es­pe­cially in ur­ban ar­eas where such sur­round­ings may be lack­ing.

Wa­ter fix­tures, feed­ers, dead­falls and snags, small brush piles and tree groves will keep birds in the vicin­ity.

“Adding wa­ter, es­pe­cially mov­ing wa­ter, to a land­scape is the fastest way to in­crease the di­ver­sity of birds you see out in the open in your yard,” Crain said. “Species that won’t come to a feeder will come to wa­ter.”

Birds look for safe stop­ping spots as they mi­grate through, she said.

“An in­di­vid­ual yard pre­pared with thought­ful­ness and care can make the dif­fer­ence to an ex­hausted bird who needs a safe place to rest,” Crain said.


Peo­ple can im­prove habi­tat for wildlife by us­ing a va­ri­ety of na­tive plants.

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