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Attracting Birds with Natural Habitat

Plant Native Plants  
The single most-beneficial act that you can make to attract birds to your yard is plant native plants. Our endemic birds find food, shelter and nesting sites with those plants. They recognize them. They know when their fruit is ripe and which insects they might find on them. They know how to use them in constructing nests. They know their growth habits and how to get around in them. They are their friends.

Provide Exposed Ground
By exposed ground we mean garden compost or leaf/needle mulch. Garden compost sits on or is mixed with dirt. When exposed, for example, in a vegetable garden or around ornamentals, it provides unimpeded access to the bugs, worms, seeds and other food stuff found in or on the soil. Leaf mulch (or preferably a leaf mulch and wood chip blend) is what is typically found on forest floors and edges. Seeds get trapped in the leaves. Bugs of all sorts can live there or just under. While we often think of birds as eating berries or flying insects, many of our song birds are ground feeders. Without access to ground, there is no feeding.

It is interesting, and even surprising, to know than many of our song birds, almost 1/3 in the Pacific Northwest, are ground nesters: [song sparrows, juncos, ...,] to name but a few. Currently, they nest in Forest Park and Oaks Bottom and other areas with adequate leaf and plant debris and relative freedom from predators, primarily house cats. By providing mulchy, leafy ground (and proper plant life above), you provide not only access to food, but with a little good fortune (and absence of cats), nesting sites.

A pitcher and a few glasses work well, but make sure that each glass is light enough for a bird to lift. Seriously, water is a critical element of life and as our development practices continue to cover streams and drain wetland, water is increasingly more difficult for birds to find. Providing a bird bath or trough or ornamental pond is a great way to bring water to birds and the beautiful darting energy of birds to your yard.

Water Idea: A cost-effective way of bringing water to your yard is placing a brown or other neutral colored tarp over a kiddies’ pool and installing this in the ground. It can even be arranged so that your downspout flows directly, or indirectly through a bioswale, into it. Shrubs can be planted around it or in it for a natural look and each time it rains the water is refreshed.

Other Landscape-Based Ways to Attract Birds

Vegetable Garden
Huh? Well, as noted above, birds like access to exposed ground for eating the grubs and worms, etc., found near the surface. Birds will also glean harvest spoils (unharvested fruits and vegetables) and insect pests. Some birds even eat slugs! Who are they and how do I get them to come to my house (and eat only slugs)?

Plant Edible Berries and Fruit Trees
Horticultural plants – blueberries, raspberries, apple and plum trees, etc. – are liked by humans and birds alike. You might loose a little of your harvest to bird predation, but you can address that with bird netting, etc. The joy and wonder brought by these visiting neighbors is worth “sharing” a little food. Editor’s note: I once saw a pileated woodpecker eating a left apple straight off the tree in late November in Corvallis. It fearlessly worked away as I inquisitively examined it from the trunk a mere six feet away.

Plant Nectar Bearing Ornamentals
Most flowers and flowering shrubs are “pretty,” yet some of those pretty plants are also very good nectar producers (see list under Bees & Benificial Insects - Nectar Plants). There are many ornamentals that are good nector plants. Nectar attracts some birds directly, such as hummingbirds, and attracts other indirectly, the insectivores, by attracting the insects upon which they prey. Plant these and you’ll get insects, birds and “Wild Kingdom” live in your yard.

Keep Chickens
I have no scientific data to back this one up, only empirical evidence. Perhaps birds get a feeling of safety or security when the see their larger feather friends calmly parading about a yard? Certainly, free-range chickens, by virtue of their kicking and scratching, expose dirt and bring the benefits of exposed ground to the yard. Furthermore, chicken feed and scratch may get scattered at times, drawing opportunistic wild birds.

If you do free-range your chickens, we suggest controlled grazing, by amount of time or a moving pen/corral/tractor. Otherwise, chickens may be a little hard on a landscape.

Keep Bees
Yes! This is a non-trivial undertaking, yet well worth it in its own right - honey, bees wax, wonder, fascination. In addition, a benefit of the tens of thousands of coming and going bees is that they are fodder for insectivores. Birds, some of which you would not likely see otherwise, will appear in your yard and swoop down and up, acrobatically gorging themselves. While the show can be surprising and even spectacular, fortunately, there is little damage to the bee population.

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