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"The Birds and The Bees – No, this is not a sex ed column!" by the Whistling Gardener

About 10 years ago I began in earnest to attract birds into my garden. I put up suet feeders for the flickers and jays and special Nyjer feeders for the gold finches, general feeders for everyone else and nectar feeders for the hummers.
Learn how to attract birds and butterflies into your garden. Photo credit: J. MacNeill-Traylor.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

About 10 years ago I began in earnest to attract birds into my garden. I put up suet feeders for the flickers and jays and special Nyjer feeders for the gold finches, general feeders for everyone else and nectar feeders for the hummers.

Since adding these extra feeders I have had all sorts of birds come to my garden. Early on flocks of starlings and red-winged black birds came but thankfully their numbers dwindled to a manageable level.

I have blue jays, grosbeaks, towhees, nuthatches, juncos, finches, sparrows, flickers, downy wood peckers, chickadees, mourning doves (they eat the seed that falls on the ground), robins (they stick to worms in the lawn) and even a red-breasted sapsucker (although I was glad to see him move on after I realized he was drilling a ton of holes in my weeping sequoia).

It’s really been a lot of fun watching and listening to all these feathered creatures throughout the day.

There are several things we all can do as gardeners to encourage birds to visit our yards.

Obviously, installing feeders is a good start. But birds need more than just a feeding station to feel secure in the garden. They need places to hide from predators, a place to build a nest, sources of water and other natural food supplies such as bugs, worms, seeds and berries.

Creating a garden that is bird friendly seems simple enough. But unfortunately, it is often at odds with our concept of a northwest garden. The classic “low maintenance” garden with a few coniferous trees, some azaleas or rhododendrons and a swath of lawn is a pretty sterile environment for birds.

If you are of the type that likes to keep all the shrubbery neatly trimmed into little green balls that don’t touch each other and have an aversion to raking leaves in the fall then your odds of bringing birds into your yard are slim to none.

I am inclined to think that birds appreciate a bit of chaos in their environment. Having shrubs grow together can be a good thing. Having a large variety of plant material is another. Letting the garden remain “messy” through the winter instead of cleaning everything up at the first frost is a good practice for keeping birds around in the winter months.

And remember that bushes that aren’t pruned all the time will be more inclined to flower and produce fruit for the birds.

Avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible. Birds eat bugs as well as seeds and if you eliminate all the bugs in your garden then there is nothing to draw the birds in. A garden full of bugs is a garden full of nutritious bird food. Learn to live with a few bugs in your life.

Provide a source of water. This could be a bird bath, fountain or pond. Either way make sure to keep it clean.

For more information and a lively discussion come to our class this Saturday. RSVP is appreciated.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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