Birds of Summer: Birdscaping Your Garden with Mike Darcy

June 26, 2021

When I first began to garden, I don’t think that I gave much thought to selecting plants that would attract birds. When I was choosing plants, my focus was more on the color of the flowers and the blooming time. Having many plants potted in outdoor ceramic pots on my deck from those early years and continuing that today, I soon became fascinated with plants that attracted birds.

Hummingbirds soon became my favorite summer bird and watching them go after the flowers on salvia was a delight.

Hummingbird with Salvia - Birdscaping Your Garden Blog

Their speed was amazing and I soon learned that they were very territorial and would chase other hummingbirds that got near their prized salvia. Initially I was told that they went after flowers with bright colors like red, orange and yellow. I quickly learned that this was a myth because my large pot of Salvia ‘Black and Blue’, (with purple flowers), was a favorite. Maybe they liked the bright red, orange and yellow flowers, but they certainly did not appear to dislike the blue salvia. Other plants on our deck that were hummingbird magnets were, fuchsias, begonias and cannas. Each year as I expanded my deck plant palette, the hummingbirds also seemed to expand their food palette as well.

Sometimes plants can be attractive to birds and it is not for any nectar or food that the plant itself might supply. My rose growing friend, Rich Baer, does not spray his vast rose garden with insecticides, even when he sees aphids or green speckled green fruit worms on the flower buds and stems. Instead, he relies on bushtits and chickadees to take care of the problem.

Giant sunflowers produce flowers that provide a bounty of food for many different birds.

Nothern Flicker - Birdscaping Your Garden Blog

Another of my favorite birds is the Northern Flicker and they will be attracted to sunflower seed heads. Sunflowers even provide food for ground feeders like Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove - Birdscaping Your Garden Blog

If you have the space to plant giant sunflowers, their flowers will attract many different birds in the late summer and early fall.
There are many types of barberry plants and quite a few are very showy in the spring when they bloom. Berries follow the blooms and provide food for towhees, finches and robins. Barberry plants also provide excellent winter cover protection for many small birds. In late summer and early fall, the fruit on dogwood trees usually ripens and is an excellent source of food for a wide variety of birds. It seems to be popular with flickers and other woodpeckers as well as cedar waxwings.

goldfinch at birdbath - Birdscaping Your Garden Blog

A note to consider when choosing plants for birds to feed on is that along with food, birds need fresh water, and a place to splash. So adding a bird bath – or even two- into your landscape will keep birds around longer, and help to keep them healthy.

Most plants that produce berries or fruit will provide food for some birds. While robins are mostly noted for eating earthworms and ground dwelling insects in the summer, they actually depend more on fruits in the winter. Ask a holly grower about robins and you will learn that they can clean holly plants of their berries very quickly.

Callicarpa Beauty Berry - Birdscaping Your Garden Blog

Callicarpa, (Beautyberry) is an often-planted garden shrub that is known for the clusters of purple berries that appear in the fall and early winter. Rarely will gardeners see the berries in the winter because they will have been a food source for robins and cedar waxwings among others. In my garden I have an Aralia elata ‘Variegata’ which blooms in mid-summer with clusters of small white flowers. These are followed by purple berries that are a delicacy for cedar waxwings. I have had these clusters of berries disappear in a 24-hour period with cedar waxwings flocking to the tree. They are beautiful birds and I don’t mind giving them a winter meal.

Florence & New Italian Art Co, Cast Stone Primitive Bird Bath, 906

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So much of nature is dependent upon many different factors. Birds depend on plants for food and plants depend on birds to spread their seed and sometimes for pollination. Regardless of your level of gardening, I would suggest planting some summer blooming salvia and watch the hummingbirds. This is an easy first-step into “birdscaping” your backyard or garden areas. Your Wilco garden area specialist can help you pick out plants to get started with.

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