Gardening for the birds

Sherrie Versluis
Feathered Friends

There is no question as to what season is the most exciting when it comes to wild birds; spring is IT! Migration brings many new species that are here for the summer season and bird lovers go to great lengths to attract all they can to their yards. Besides offering bird feeders filled with tantalizing treats, gardening is another big factor for encouraging wild birds. Some species may only be attracted to plants rather than feeders so to maximize the variety of birds in your yard this season, get gardening!

Hummingbirds

For most people, hummingbirds are one of the most fascinating creatures they can attract into their yards. To watch these sparkling little jewels dance in the air with their remarkable flight abilities is incomparable to any other bird. Having the right plants along with a quality feeder can make all the difference in seeing them or not. Plants to consider include basic petunias to bee balm, red columbine, hollyhocks, honeysuckle, scarlet runner, morning glory, nicotiana, and impatiens. These are just some of the flowers that produce nectar that hummingbirds enjoy. Hanging baskets are an easy way to offer flowers if you don’t have much of a yard to plant a variety. 

I know in my own yard, there are periods the hummingbirds feed mostly at my plants yet other times they are ferociously feeding at the nectar feeders. I always like to make sure people realize the maintenance involved in providing hummingbirds with a nectar feeder. The feeders should be changed a minimum of once a week, but it really is recommended two to three times a week. The sugar solution does ferment and produce mould in the heat of summer, so it is important to keep it fresh. You probably wouldn’t enjoy a drink that’s been outside for a week so please keep that in mind when offering a feeder. Look for feeders that have perches, are bug-proof, and can be properly cleaned. 

To make the nectar, use 4 parts water to one part white sugar. You can make a large batch of it and leave it in the fridge for up to two weeks. It is very important to never use other sweeteners of any kind or to add colouring. Put your feeders up by the end of April for best results.

Trees for Birds

In Manitoba, there are many species of birds that enjoy berries, so planting the right trees can bring special visitors. Some trees provide berries but others, like the birch tree, provide seeds that are very desirable. Mountain ash trees are a must for yards that can fit a tree that will grow outward. These juicy berries are a major attraction for Cedar and Bohemian waxwings which are a spectacular sight. American robins will also be happy to discover this tree’s offerings. Dogwoods, crab apples, hawthorn, and cherry trees are also very popular. Trees that offer seeds are maple, fir, pine, and spruce. 

Certain trees even provide great nesting cavities that are suitable to many birds – from chickadees right up to owls. They include, cottonwoods, oaks, apples, aspens, and willows to name a few. Trees like spruce and pine can provide shelter that is very much appreciated by birds in bad weather and in our cold winters. Mature oak trees are another bird favourite once they start producing acorns which blue jays, ducks, and woodpeckers enjoy. 

Butterflies

Butterflies are another creature that many people are dedicating their gardens to so they can see these gentle, colourful delights. Plants like goldenrod, sunflower and coneflowers are enjoyed by butterflies and as the plant matures, goldfinches will be seen too. Other butterfly plants are Joe-Pye weed, butterfly bush, zinnia, bee balm, and black-eyed Susan. Don’t forget to plant milkweed, parsley and dill for the caterpillar stage; they need food too!

Goldfinch on goldenrod. Plant some native plants to keep birds happy.

Offering plants is just another way to make your yard into a sanctuary that will invite an array of interesting creatures. Start planning your yard now so you don’t miss out on all the beauty this upcoming season has to offer and have fun!

Sherrie Versluis owns the Preferred Perch and is an avid birder.