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Gardening for the Birds: 5 places, 5 birds

by Timber Press on August 21, 2013

in Design, Gardening, Natural History

Northern cardinal feeding in wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Image: Patrick Connally

The key to bringing birds home is the use of native plants, like this wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), a favorite of Northern cardinals. Image: Patrick Connally

The key to providing food and shelter for birds is using native plants. Beside being a familiar source of food and habitat, gardening with native plants can also limit invasive species and predatory bird populations by strengthening the number of native birds. But how can you know what birds are native to your area and which plants are their favorites?

In Gardening for the Birds, author George Adams divides the country into five distinct regions, explains what makes each unique, and offers plant suggestions guaranteed to bring birds to your garden, yard, or patio. Here, we take a look at five urban areas, one for each region, with an example of a local bird and some native plants that will bring it closer to home.

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Phoenix, Arizona
Mountains and Deserts Region
The cactus wren is the state bird of Arizona and the largest North American wren. A bird of the deserts and arid hillsides of the Southwest, where it is present all year, its musical call is the quintessential sound of the desert. They visit suburban gardens in Phoenix where they mainly feed on insects. They are also attracted to the fruits of hackberry, elderberry and sumacs. They commonly nest in yucca or cholla trees where the sharp spines provide protection from predators including snakes and are likely to take up residence in your garden if these plants are present.

Cactus wren at its nest in cane cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior). Image: Linda Tanner

Cactus wren at its nest in cane cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior). Image: Linda Tanner

New York City, New York
Northeast Region
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird to regularly visit New York City. It migrates from its wintering grounds in southwestern Mexico to nest each year and is usually in New York between May and September when it migrates back over the Gulf of Mexico. An amazing journey for a tiny bird 3.25 inches long. Rather than attracting them with sugar water feeders, plant some of their beautiful natural food plants such as trumpet creeper (Lonicera sempervirens), bee balm (Monarda didyma), cardinal flower and penstemons. As a bonus, these plants also attract butterflies. If you provide plants that provide nectar from May to September they will be constant visitors to your garden or balcony planter. (See the Calendar for Hummingbird and Butterfly Flowers on page 43 of Gardening for the Birds to design for a sequence of flowering plants.)

Male ruby-throated hummingbird feeding in trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Image: Terry Sohl

Male ruby-throated hummingbird feeding in trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Image: Terry Sohl

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Plains and Prairies Region
The northern cardinal is a familiar bird in Oklahoma City. A year round resident, it is a rare songbird that sings throughout the year with about 28 songs in his repertoire.
Their diet consists of 30% insects and 70% vegetable matter, mainly wild fruits. Rather than a feeder, try planting their natural foods including native dogwoods, elderberry and viburnums. If you plant a sequence of fruiting trees and shrubs for year round fruit, provide a quiet nesting area including prickly shrubs such as blackberry, raspberry and native roses, and a birdbath, they may take up permanent residence. (See the Calendar for Seasonal Fruiting  on page 105 in Gardening for the Birds.)

Northern cardinal feeding on rosehips of Carolina rose (Rosa carolina). Image: George Adams

Northern cardinal feeding on rosehips of Carolina rose (Rosa carolina). Image: George Adams

Seattle, Washington
Pacific Coast Region
The Steller’s jay is a beautiful common year round yard bird in Seattle. They are amusing birds and known as amazing mimics with a repertoire that includes imitations of chickens, dogs, eagles, cats and other birds. Plant material makes up 70% of the Stellar’s jay’s diet and they are particularly attracted to acorns and pine seed, often burying a cache as a winter food supply. You can attract them to your garden by planting plenty of native shelter trees and shrubs and native fruiting trees such as elderberry, dogwoods and wild cherries as well as their favoured food, acorns and pines. (See the Calendar for Seasonal Fruiting page 105 in Gardening for the Birds.)

Steller's jay. Image: Linda Tanner

Steller’s jay. Image: Linda Tanner

Miami, Florida
Southeast Region
The American robin is a familiar garden bird in Miami throughout the year and is joined by American robins from further north during winter. Known for its melodious song with a joyous liquid quality, the American robin’s song is the first heard in the morning and last heard at night. American robins feed on earthworms and insects as well as native fruit. You can attract them to your garden by planting native fruiting trees to provide food year round including serviceberry, hackberry, dogwoods, hawthorn, holly, and bayberries.

American robin feeding on the fruits of black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). Image: Jacqueline Trump

American robin feeding on the fruits of black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). Image: Jacqueline Trump

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George Adams is an avid birdwatcher, a landscape designer, a wildlife artist, and a photographer. Please say hello to George on his Facebook Page.

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Northern cardinal feeding in wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Image: Patrick Connally

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“If you own only one book about attracting birds — Gardening for the Birds has all the useful information you will need to create your own bird sanctuary in your own garden.” —Noelle Johnson, Birds & Blooms Blog

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