For a beautiful and ear-pleasing addition to your yard this spring and summer, consider turning your corner of the outdoors into a bird habitat.
To attract a variety of birds to your yard, homeowners need to provide some essential things, according to local experts. These include food, water, shelter and a place for the birds to raise their young.
Rob O’Quinn, owner of Birds, Blooms & Butterflies by Design, 3475 Teays Valley Road in Hurricane, said those four components of a backyard habitat will attract a variety of songbird species and other wildlife, including butterflies.
“Water is the big one, because birds can actually survive longer without food than water,” O’Quinn said. “Water is key.”
The easiest, most economical way to provide water for birds is to install bird baths.
“It could be like your standard, regular bird bath, or, it could be just a simple, hanging bird bath,” he said.
Another essential part of a successful bird habitat is making sure there are plenty of native plants in it, such as flowers and herbaceous plants, which can lead produce food sources such as insects.
“There are certain trees and native plants that attract insects, and if you want songbirds to survive in any habitat, you’ve got to have insects,” he said.
O’Quinn said in this region, good trees to include in a bird habitat would be oak, black cherry, birch and poplar.
“And there are all kinds of native shrubs that produce berries at different times of the year,” he said.
Flowers and wildflowers are excellent additions to bird habitats. Goldenrod is a good example.
“It’s a misnomer that goldenrod creates a lot of hay fever — that’s not the case — but it does attract the largest amount of moths and butterflies to it than any other herbaceous, flowering plant in the mid-Atlantic.”
Native sunflowers and native asters are also good flower choice, O’Quinn said.
Many people think of food for birds as being whatever humans provide them, such as birdseed.
“We (humans) only supplement their diet about 10 to 15 percent. The real reason to feed them is to bring them in closer so that you can enjoy them and learn from them.”
Providing birds places to nest is also important for a good habitat.
“A lot that comes into play with the native plants. Native evergreens are great, because they are green year round, and that gives the birds a place to nest,” O’Quinn said.
Birds also need shelter, which could come from some of the native trees and shrubs.
Another way to provide shelter for birds is to build a brush pile in one part of the yard.
“Start out with big logs at the bottom and then pile on various limbs on the top of it. There’s a lot of species of birds that peck around in that for insects, but also, some birds actually nest on the ground.”
Veteran “birder” and West Virginia State University Professor Steven W. Richards said a variety of songbirds can be attracted to yards by providing the essentials noted above.
Richards earned a doctorate in natural resource management and ecotourism studies and led birding tours as part of his graduate work. He’s also taught beginning bird-watching classes.
“Some songbirds are principally seed eaters and can be attracted by providing feeders filled with sunflower and thistle (niger) seed,” Richards said in an email.
“Shrubs and trees that produce berries are particularly beneficial for songbirds. Understory trees and shrubs such as dogwood (Cornus spp.), viburnums, hollies and elderberry (Sambucus spp.) are all attractive to American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, thrushes, thrashers, Gray Catbird, vireos, Eastern Kingbird, Northern Cardinals and warblers,” he said.
“Plant native perennials to provide nectar for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea spp.), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are all excellent native perennials that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and native pollinators. Purple Coneflower is particularly attractive to American Goldfinches.”
Regarding habitat, Richards said homeowners should include native plants in their backyard landscapes.
“If one wants to attract more birds to the back yard, perhaps the single most effective action to take is to incorporate more native plants into the landscape and garden. Landscape and garden with native trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and flowering perennials,” he said.
“Sterile, closely manicured lawns offer songbirds few opportunities for providing nesting, feeding and sheltering requirements to survive and successfully breed.”
Richards said cavity-nesting birds can be attracted to the back yard by placement of nest boxes in appropriate habitat.
“Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, wrens, Crested Flycatchers, several species of woodpeckers, Wood Ducks and Eastern Screech Owls may be tempted to nest in your back yard if proper nestbox dimensions, placement and habitat conditions are considered.”
And make sure you provide water for the birds.
“In summer and during periods of drought, water may be more important or necessary for birds than food. Bird baths, water fountains and small saucers or water pools placed in the garden often attract birds to the back yard,” Richards said.