Gardening for the Birds
At the risk of sounding redundant, the first and most important thing to remember when planting “for the birds” is to include a lot of plants that attract and sustain insect populations. It’s also critical to preserve and protect the native plants already present, especially mature trees. Unless it’s a truly invasive nonnative species (such as a mature privet), any healthy tree will be a benefit to bird life because trees provide cover and nesting sites, and often some form of food as well. Avoid any major pruning work on trees and large shrubs during the nesting season; always schedule this kind of work between September and January or February.
Birds are really tuned in to the seasonal changes; average temperatures and day lengths trigger migrations to and from breeding areas and also amazing physical changes within a bird’s body. Their reproductive organs and digestive systems change to accommodate the needs of the next generation.
Diets change, seed eating birds may eat more fruits and greens, and when actually rearing nestlings, eighty percent of all songbirds rely on insects for the protein necessary for their fast growing offspring.
So, the basics of habitat gardening apply here as well: be sure your garden is a pesticide-free zone maintained using all organic, sustainable methods. Grow a variety of intermingled plant types to provide cover and shelter and food resources in each season, and provide a source of clean water. Letting your plan go to seed, mulching under plantings and leaving leaf litter are all practices that are beneficial for the birds.
Creating undisturbed brush piles, if it is allowed in your area, is beneficial to ground-nesting birds, and hanging nesting boxes will benefit cavity nesters. Growing various grasses and leaving the chaff after seed set provides nesting materials. Any nests from the previous seasons should be left in place as some birds will reuse old nests or scavenge materials from them.
Birds often return to their natal territories and there’s nothing quite as satisfying to a habitat gardener as knowing that certain wonderful birds will likely return to raise another generation in your resource-rich garden sanctuary!
It’s a bit artificial to create a listing like this which is defined by the months of the year; as we all know, nature does not follow the human calendar. Day lengths are set and reliable, but local weather is not, and neither are the conditions within micro habitats. The natural world responds to these influences - and more - in the unfolding of various life cycles.
I love watching the birds at my feeders, which are strategically placed away from potential danger and in such a way that I get a great view from my favorite place to sit and read. I’ll notice all the activity in a peripheral sort of way, but when something unusual happens, or a bird appears that’s out of the ordinary, my attention is immediately focused. I get so much pleasure from watching these beautiful creatures un-noticed, but still close up.
Early in March, the Redbud is ready to burst into bloom; the beautiful zig-zagging tracery of its branches soon to be disguised in a cloud of pink flowers. I’ve planted several redbuds in different areas on our property, but the most spectacular is a well-developed small tree, now about 15 feet tall, in my front border. As it happens, it is an eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), a beautiful case of a mistaken identity!
The Flickers have now left my oak woodlands and moved to higher elevations in the Coast Ranges; I’ll look forward to seeing them again when we’re camping in the forests this summer. Meanwhile, the Tree Swallows are here already and I’m waiting to hear the first calls of the Ash-throated Flycatchers as they arrive from wintering grounds in Baja California. For the last five or six years they have shown up about the fifth of May, and by June are raising a brood in the nesting box hung in an old Coast Live Oak.
A number of animals store acorns for later consumption; notably the Acorn Woodpeckers with their ‘granary trees’. They place each acorn just so, packed tightly into a hole, and then tend to their store regularly, moving the acorns to smaller holes when they start to dry up and shrink.
I was lucky enough to be outside at just the right time about a week ago when I noticed a lot of activity around a Toyon - the most spectacular Toyon I’ve ever seen, and it lives on the top side of the meadow next to my house and garden. This Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is a tree, about 30 feet tall, with a trunk that looks to be about 7 to 9 inches in diameter. Several smaller Toyons that are more shrub-sized also grow close by.
The term Ecology is a relatively new field of study in the world of Biology; it was coined in 1866 by the German scientist, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919). There are now two major subdivisions; animal ecology or plant ecology; and as many as twenty-one different specialty areas of study. One of the broadest specialty areas is Bioecology, when plants and animals are given equal emphasis; Autecology is the study of a single species of organism; and Synecology is the study of ecological inter-relationships among communities of organisms.