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Garden for Wildlife

The second Saturday in May is designated as migratory bird day. Migratory Bird Day ties in perfectly with gardening for wildlife. As humans develop more and more land to serve our needs habitats for other animals, including migratory birds becomes more and more fragmented.

What does this mean? Imagine for a moment that you have, twice a year, to move from LA to Boston. This is a distance of about 2600 miles as the crow flies. You set out knowing that you will be able to stop for food, water and fuel along the way. You have to travel across a varied and rugged terrain crossing deserts, moutains, vast grasslands, rivers, and woodlands. Some of this area will have rich resources for you and some of it will be sparse and barren. You budget your time and your gas to make sure that you can make it from one point to the next. Over time, some of your preferred rest areas are taken away either because they go out of business or they are replaced by other kinds of development. You adjust for a while but there comes a time when you are not certain that you are going to make it to a refueling station because one that you had counted on is no longer there. Perhaps you make it. Perhaps you run out of fuel.

This is not unlike what is happening to long distance travel routes for many bird species across the globe. Forests are cleared to make way for houses. Wetlands are filled to accommodate shopping malls and resorts. Grasslands are plowed under to create farmlands or, conversely, farmlands that might have provided scraps of grain and insects are converted to subdivisions covered in clipped grass and ornamental trees.

Gardening is a great way to reverse this trend. Plants can be both ornamental and functional to wildlife. Plant your yard to be a refueling station to birds. Like people, birds need three things to help them complete a successful journey: food, water and a place to rest.

  1. Food can be both planted and provided.
    1. Planting berry bushes like Pyrocanthus, Rose, Juniper, and  Barbados Cherry will help fruit and seed eating birds.
      1. (Insects will find your plants and insect eaters will make use of that food source, if you don’t spray to prevent insects.)
    2. Providing feeders with high quality seed (black oil sunflower) will attract nearly all seed eating birds.
    3. Providing sliced fruit (apples or oranges) will attract orioles and their cousins.
    4. I like to keep a suet cake out because the high fat content is a great energy source.
  2. Water,
    1. Keep bird baths clean and filled. I saw many migratory birds at my water sources that did not come to any of my food sources.
  3. Roosting/resting place.
    1. Many birds like dense cover like Junipers and other evergreen shrubs to hide in. These help keep wind and weather off and protect them from predators.
    2. Coniferous trees are another place birds will roost (see above).
    3. My neighbors Cottonwood and Live Oaks also seem to be popular with the birds.
    4. Clean out the bird nest boxes in the fall and migrating birds will often roost in them for the night.

Celebrate International Migratory Bird day by planting your garden to be a rest stop for the birds. Make it a community affair. Imagine the sort of environment (for you and your neighbors as well) you could create if you teamed up with your neighborhood to coordinate the planting and create a larger habitat for these beautiful creatures.

Who’s in your garden?

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