Planting A Garden For Songbirds – Top Plants That Attract Songbirds

Planting A Garden For Songbirds – Top Plants That Attract Songbirds

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

A garden has its own inherent pleasures, but for gardeners who love wildlife and beautiful music, it can be used to attract songbirds. Either way, you’ll enjoy both the plants and the birds that flock to them.

How to Draw Songbirds to Your Yard

Whether you live in the suburbs, a rural area, on a farm, or even in the heart of a big city, there are birds in the air and they are looking for great gardens to visit. There are a few musts for any size of garden that wants to maximize these visitors: food, protection and shelter, and water.

Yes, the plants in your garden can provide these things, but you need more. A garden for songbirds requires some planning. In addition to specific plants, find room for some of these other elements:

  • A bird feeder and seed. It’s crucial to have plants that provide food for songbirds, but a feeder offers extra incentive as well as winter snacking when other food is scarce. Feeding wild birds will attract a number of species.
  • A water source. Birds need water, and if you don’t have it, all the food in the world won’t bring them to the garden. It could be a pond or natural wetlands, a manmade pond, or a simple birdbath. Even an inverted trash can lid with water is enough. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
  • Places to take cover. Plants are the main source of cover for songbirds, and you can choose those that fit your garden. Large deciduous trees, like maples, oaks, and hickories are great for large yards, while holly, blueberry, and other shrubs work in smaller spaces. Just be sure to include some evergreens for year-round cover.

Examples of Plants That Attract Songbirds

Plants songbirds like are the backbone of your bird-friendly garden. They provide cover and food, ideally year round. Go for layers of plants, if you have room, as some birds nest up high, some in the middle canopy, and others closer to the ground. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Juniper. Juniper plants provide excellent, evergreen cover and nesting space, as well as good quality food in the fall and winter for songbirds.
  • Flowering crabapple. These pretty, decorative trees are not too big and they provide cover as well as food from summer through winter.
  • Chokecherry. Good for medium-level cover, the chokecherry shrub also provides food that more than 70 species of bird like to eat.
  • Elderberry. The elderberry shrub/small tree is also popular, with more than 100 species attracted to it for food in the late summer.
  • Flowering vines. Use Virginia creeper, coral honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and other flowering vines for nesting and cover in smaller spaces. As an added bonus, these will attract hummingbirds.

In general, go for a variety of plants, with different heights, deciduous and evergreen, with different kinds of flowers and berries, and you can expect to have a true garden for songbirds.

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Cold temperatures, severe storms and scarce food supplies make winter the harshest season for wild birds, and bird mortality is high all winter long. Backyard birders who help meet birds' needs during the winter will be rewarded with a diverse flock of winter visitors.

Feeding birds is the easiest way to attract them to your yard in any season. Adding the best winter bird foods to your feeders when the temperatures drop will give birds adequate energy to survive even the worst weather. Foods high in oil and fat, such as suet, peanuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and Nyjer are the most popular choices, but it is important to tailor your backyard buffet to the exact needs of your winter flock. In many areas, for example, hummingbirds may overwinter and will need a fresh supply of nectar.


Chickadees

Chickadees are easy to attract to most yards, and they're voracious insect-eaters. Grubs and caterpillars are special favorites of chickadees, and because these birds have larger broods, the parents will quickly hunt hundreds of caterpillars for their young chicks.

One nest usually has 5 to 8 eggs, but nests of up to 10 to 13 eggs are not unheard of, and that's a lot of hungry chicks eating insects!


How to Use Water Features to Attract Birds to Your Yard

See how a rocket engineer attracts birds by setting up proper habitats that include the gurgling sound of moving water.

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Water is a key element to attracting birds, and creatively designed water features are not only pleasing to our senses, but they are appealing to the birds' senses as well. The sounds and sights of moving water — dripping, gurgling, bubbling, flowing and splashing — attracts birds to drop down from their migratory flyways to layover, refuel, drink and bathe.

Birds, rabbits, fox, raccoons and opossums have been observed visiting the bubbling rock water feature in the "outback garden" as well as a screech owl that shows up three times a week to bathe and drink. The wildlife activity is documented by a motion-sensor security camera at night and by the homeowner during the day.

Birds, rabbits, fox, raccoons and opossums have been observed visiting the bubbling rock water feature in the "outback garden" as well as a screech owl that shows up three times a week to bathe and drink. The wildlife activity is documented by a motion-sensor security camera at night and by the homeowner during the day.

Herb Lewis, a retired engineer, whose career encompassed test of the Saturn V Moon Rocket and ballistic missile defense, epitomizes the rocket-science way of life in Huntsville, Alabama, and his garden shows an industrial engineer’s attention to detail and precision. Herb takes an analytical approach with an empathetic thought process in the creation of forest edges, open fields, corridors and dense thickets in his backyard bird habitat. Each zone is meticulously designed for a bird’s needs — food, water and places to hide and nest. Living in close proximity to a state park, nature preserves, mountains and rivers, Herb takes advantage of the neighboring natural spaces by extending the wild into his suburban yard.

A tabletop water feature placed on the deck provides opportunities for up-close viewing and photographing visiting birds. This northern flicker doesn't seem to mind sharing the watering hole with a couple of robins.

A tabletop water feature placed on the deck provides opportunities for up-close viewing and photographing visiting birds. This northern flicker doesn't seem to mind sharing the watering hole with a couple of robins.

When Herb retired from the defense industry, he combined his love of gardening and birds. His wife, Terry, certified their yard as a Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and his perspective for a longtime hobby changed. He began to apply techniques and methods presented by the NWF, and a most important component for a habitat garden is water.

A pedestal birdbath is the simplest way to offer water to the birds and can be installed anywhere in the garden but better to nestle the pedestal among vegetation.

A pedestal birdbath is the simplest way to offer water to the birds and can be installed anywhere in the garden but better to nestle the pedestal among vegetation.

Considering the yard as a landing strip for birds, Herb works to reduce lawn and build microenvironments that include all of the habitat essentials. Tucked away in the garden, and in the "outback" lot abutting their yard, are six water features. A drip column, reflection pool, pedestal birdbath, a small tabletop water feature, a large bubbling rock system and a waterfall are all strategically placed throughout the yard. Each one is surrounded by dense plantings to offer protective corridors and pathways for the birds to approach in safety. Each water feature is thoughtfully placed among the habitats.

A drip-rock column is tucked away behind shrubbery and ferns and only offers sips of water.

A drip-rock column is tucked away behind shrubbery and ferns and only offers sips of water.

The large bubbling-rock water feature sits in a meadow-like setting but close enough to large trees, and Herb added more plants to the perimeter of the feature. “Birds are vulnerable out in the open,” Herb explains, “but if a water feature is placed amongst trees and shrubs, then there will be places for birds to escape to when they feel threatened. Also, plants give structure for birds to preen and sun themselves after bathing in the bubbling rock.” Besides creating safety and security for the birds, Herb also provides natural food sources by planting seed-bearing and nectar plants.

Herb and Terry have a bird’s eye view of the waterfall feature. The bubbling water attracts many thirsty visitors including neo-tropical migrating birds. Water movement is also important to keep mosquitoes out. A heater keeps the water from freezing during the winter.

Herb and Terry have a bird’s eye view of the waterfall feature. The bubbling water attracts many thirsty visitors including neo-tropical migrating birds. Water movement is also important to keep mosquitoes out. A heater keeps the water from freezing during the winter.

“Planning is important,” Herb says. “You’ll need to run electricity for water pumps and aerators, so take these things into account when you are figuring out where to put them.” The solar fountains are not suitable if you want to attract birds to the water features. The solar panels take up too much surface and may scare off the birds. A water feature, whether small or large, a simple basin or complex system, needs to be installed properly. Prepare and plan ahead of the project, and consider all of the components — liners and underlining materials, reservoirs, circulating pumps, aerators and agitators. Make them look more natural and inviting by adding rocks, wood and plants. “A shallow depth of an inch is best,” Herb says, “or if it is deeper, make it sloped or graded so the birds can go in as deep as they want. They need to be able to see the bottom and feel safe from predators.” The bubbling rock feature in the “outback garden” is 12-feet in diameter and has a buried 35-gallon reservoir. The feature is filled with rock, the big bubbling rock is set in on top of them and pea gravel is used as a filter. Herb moved the rocks around to expose the water table and create a pool. A small waterfall circulates water, a pool amplifies the babbling sound of water and rocks and pebbles are arranged to create two shallow bathing pools.


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