A garden without the darting and fluttering of wild birds and the excitement of listening to their calls and attempting to guess the species may never seem bountiful or complete. By taking note of Mother Nature’s magical plant recipes, your garden can sing with pleasure. No more plastic tubes or trays to clean and refill, and never doubts about nutritional needs or the precious nectar she provides her winged creatures. Birds have been around many more years than commercial manufacturers.
Forging from high above, birds generally favor gardens with a thick perimeter of fruit, seed, cone, or nut-baring shrubs and trees surrounding a clearing — such as a patio or grassy back lawn.
An appetizer may be a small flowering plant or vine such as Mexican heather, coral bells or honeysuckle. Larger plants will produce quicker and more abundant results. Small trees such as dogwood and hawthorn may take several years to produce fruit, but once established they are among the most generous providers. Drought-tolerant plants such as ceanothus provide early spring nourishment when nature’s food tends to be in short supply.
Favorite berry meals include all dogwoods, hawthorns, mountain ash, pyrancantha, toyon, and most viburnums. When in bloom and potted, try one of the fragrant and favored lavenders or rosemary.
If there is space for a larger tree, which is especially welcoming to a wide variety of birds, consider willows, our native sycamores, oaks, pines — one of the cone-bearing trees with seeds born in its cones.
In our warm coastal areas, hummingbirds are year-round and their colorful hanging feeders are very popular. There are also excellent shrubs and flowers that provide natural nectar including acacia, aloe, bottlebrush, grevileas, melaleucas, flowering quince, honeysuckle, Manzanita, coral bells, red hot poker and the wild cerise penstemon that used to carpet the hillsides. Sunflowers are another favorite and so easy to grow. I once spent the good part of a Sunday afternoon watching a woodpecker hang upside down digging seeds from a drying flower head.
Hoping to attract a scrub jay, I inquired at a feed store and the clerk replied “Toss out peanuts in the shell and watch them sort for the heaviest.” The beautiful jays we see in the mountains forge on acorns and the peanuts seemed like cheating on Mother Nature. Peanut annuals, however, will grow where summers are long and warm and the soil is not acid.
Recently, two morning doves arrived in my garden forging for seed dropped from a potted Mexican sage. Doves tend to be a little messy but a light spray quickly washed off the walk and patio surface. Other birds appear to have better manners.
All our warm-blooded friends need water whether a small birdbath, fountain or garden sprinkler. And what fun to watch the smaller birds splash and shake their feathers. Choices are attractive and plentiful, and certainly a welcome necessity for birds we invite into our gardens.
The above shrubs, flowers, and trees are a few suggestions from Mother Nature’s menu. Check out the Batiquitos Lagoon Nature Center for more information.
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