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How to attract birds to any landscape

In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler says when birds are attracted to our landscapes, everyone wins.

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The home landscape can meet birds' needs and attract a rich variety of species.
iStock / Special to The Forum
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Attracting wildlife to the home landscape sounds charming, until the rabbits ruin the roses, and a young buck hones his horns on the trunk of your Honeycrisp apple. Birds, however, are gracious guests, appreciating your winter landscape’s food and shelter without creating havoc.

When birds are attracted to our landscapes, everyone wins. Birds receive the food, shelter, water and safe space they need, and we enjoy watching, listening and knowing we’re helping.

Birds add fun to the winter landscape, and the same elements that attract them also make the entire landscape more interesting and upbeat. Whether birds live in a forest or in the center of a city, their requirements are similar.

A well-designed landscape can meet birds’ needs and attract a rich diversity of types. To make a landscape more hospitable for birds, it’s not necessary to start from scratch; most home yards already have the basics on which to build.

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Dogwoods can help attract birds to the yard.
iStock / Special to The Forum

Here’s how to make a home landscape more inviting to birds:

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  • Bird-friendly landscapes have a layered effect, with the tallest trees along the perimeter, descending to shorter trees, shrubs and then to grasses and flowers. Start at the outer perimeter of the yard, and work your way in.
  • Birds prefer landscapes that have edges, or spaces where trees and shrubs border open spaces. Many birds like to feed in open spaces but need protective cover to roost, nest and raise their young.
  • Wide expanses of mowed turf don’t contribute greatly to bird habitat, so to attract more birds, reduce the amount of lawn in favor of woody plants, perennial flowers and ornamental grasses. Some open space is needed, though.
  • The greater the diversity of plant types in the home landscape, the greater the assortment of bird types that will be drawn in.
  • Planting both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs provides shelter both winter and summer.
  • Natural food sources aren’t limited to plants with berries or showy fruits. The dried flowers of many shrubs and perennials contain nutritious seeds.
  • Use native plants whenever possible, as birds will find them most familiar.
  • A consistent water source can be the difference between a very active yard and a yard with few birds, as nearly all birds are attracted to water.
  • Add feeders and nest boxes to the landscape.
  • Have patience. As a young landscape matures, it will attract different bird species. It takes time for birds to check out the landscape, evaluate its merits and decide whether it’s safe to stay.
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Junipers provide evergreen habitat for birds, and some types have blue berries that provide food.
iStock / Special to The Forum

The following is a list of plants most likely to draw birds into a landscape. Adding multiple types to an existing landscape will provide food and habitat, plus the landscape will look more attractive with diverse plant types:

  • Aronia: The shrub’s purple-black fruits persist into winter.
  • Dogwood: Small, round seed capsules provide food, and branches give cover.
  • Hazelnut: Large shrub or small tree with edible nuts.
  • Ninebark: A popular landscape shrub in a variety of foliage colors. The dried flower clusters contain seed.
  • Symphoricarpos snowberry: Small flowers are followed by fruits that persist into winter.
  • Blue Muffin Viburnum: The white flowers of this large shrub are followed by blue berries that cling all winter.
  • Mohican Viburnum: White flowers on a large shrub, followed by red-orange fruit.
  • American Cranberrybush Viburnum: Red fruits on a large shrub are highly attractive to birds.
  • Elderberry: Large shrubs produce clusters of black or red berries.
  • Juneberry: A favorite fruit of both birds and humans.
  • Buffaloberry: Native shrub with red berries.
  • Juniper: Both upright and spreading types provide evergreen habitat, plus some types have blue berries that provide food.
  • Scotch pine: This large evergreen tree has seed-bearing cones and its branches are perfect for perching.
  • Spruce: Large, pyramidal evergreens supply safe nesting and refuge both summer and winter. Birds are attracted to the seed-bearing cones.
  • Ornamental crabapples: Check for cultivars with small fruits that persist into winter, supplying an excellent food source.
  • Hackberry: These shade trees are well-known to attract birds with their nutlike seeds.
  • Mountain-ash: Medium-sized trees have clusters of red berries.
  • Perennial flowers and ornamental grasses of all kinds: Leave the above-ground portion of most types intact during winter to provide food and habitat.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.

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Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.
The Forum

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.
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