I love watching the birds in my garden. Which is not to say that I know them by name or type. When I look at the birds outside my window I see big birds and little birds. I see blue jays and robins, just about the only birds I can identify. I can also identify hummingbirds because the only hummingbird I am likely to see is the ruby throated hummingbird. I can hear the woodpeckers. I enjoy having all these birds in my garden.
Even so, I do not provide bird feeders, not even during the winter. I am not ready to battle the many squirrels that live in my garden. I did make a try. I bought a Plexiglas feeder that would stick to my window. This is the way I thought I could finally see the shapes of beaks and the feather markings clearly enough to name a bird, with the help of a guide book.
And what happened? We stuck the feeder to the window, added lovely black oil sunflower seed and sat by the window to see who would come.
A squirrel came and within minutes it had managed to get from the feeding platform to inside the seed space. That was the beginning and end of our bird feeder experiment.
The list of seed bearing flowers begins with dandelions in the spring and goes through the summer and fall with cosmos, zinnias, black-eyed susans, asters, coreopsis, blanket flowers, sunflowers, sedums and many others. All of these flowers will also make the bees happy. Bees come to these flowers to sip the nectar and collect the pollen. They leave the seeds to the birds.
In addition to flowers that produce seeds for the birds, I also plant berries. I have elderberries and winterberries. I can tell you those elderberries disappear really fast in the summer. I have two tall American cranberry viburnums; they only look like cranberries but the birds still enjoy them. I also grow raspberries. Oddly, birds are not very interested in raspberries. Blueberries are another story.
Since I have two river birches, a willow, a huge Norway spruce and neighboring maple and oak trees, I know there are many insects that live in those trees. Birds eat lots of insects, especially in the spring when they need to feed their hatchlings. Entomology Professor Doug Tallamy said “Insects are extraordinarily high in protein: They have up to twice as much protein, pound for pound, as does beef.” That seems amazing, but it explains how birds survive even though they expend so much energy flying.
Even though I do provide for the birds, including a little birdbath that I clean and fill throughout good weather, I have felt a bit guilty in the winter because I don’t put out bird feeders. Then, the other day I received my Native Plant News from the Native Plant Trust with an article on Feeding Birds: An Eco-Gardener’s Approach by Christopher Leahy. He worked at Massachusetts Audubon for 45 years and knows his birds. He said that guilt was not necessary and neither were the birdfeeders. He did acknowledge that having a bird feeder will attract birds, and will provide pleasure to those who like watching the birds.
Leahy went on to say that feeding the birds, and creating a whole industry, did not exist before the 1930s. “Birds are extraordinarily well-adapted for finding the kind of food they require and are vastly better equipped than our species for living outdoors in abominable weather, due to the highly effective insulation system called plumage and an exquisitely sensitive metabolism.”
He suggested getting familiar with 50 of the birds most likely to visit your garden. Then become familiar with their favorite foods and nesting sites. He also suggested that we should encourage the presence of insects and such things as spiders, centipedes and creatures of leaf litter. Don’t use pesticides and don’t let the garden get too tidy.
As you will have noticed I have not mentioned the New England Wildflower Society. That is what I called this organization for many years. However the organization had four names before it chose Native Plant Trust, a name very true to Society for the Protection of Native Plants chosen by its founders in 1900.
The Native Plant Trust’s website provides wonderful information about native plants. Its Go Botany project makes it possible for gardeners, or people who just like hiking through wild areas, to identify and learn about unfamiliar plants.
There are tip sheets about available plants sold by the Native Plant Trust as well caring for various kinds of plants. There are also workshops and seminars during the year.
For more information about the Native Plant Trust check out their comprehensive website www.nativeplanttrust.org. ###