The diversity of birds that breed, winter or migrate through the northeast is tremendous, somewhere around 400 species. Landscaping specifically to attract birds to your property is an interesting and fast-growing trend that provides a healthy landscape, habitat and forage for many species of birds and a diversity of flowers, fruits and greenery that have aesthetic appeal throughout the year. Suburban sprawl and rapid development have contributed serious habitat fragmentation for birds, a situation which makes those with long migratory journeys all the more difficult. By including certain plants, trees and flowers in landscaping, homeowners can provide nesting sites, shelter from the weather, cover from predators and year round food sources. If properly done, backyards can become interesting and exciting bird and wildlife viewing areas.
All wildlife, birds included, need 4 things for survival; food, water, cover and space. These are the essential elements that make up habitat. And while different species will have different proportional requirements, a good general rule of thumb to follow is: greater habitat diversity will mean greater diversity of birds. Birds, like all animals, receive energy from the foods they eat; fruits, berries, grains, seeds, nuts and nectar can all be made available on your property, if you are interested in specific birds learn about their nutritional needs and find plants suitable for your yard that meet those requirements. Water is essential for all life, and safe access can present a challenge during migration and breeding, so installing a water feature, i.e. a stream, pond, birdbath or protected wetland will increase the habitat value of your yard exponentially. Birds need cover to shelter from extreme weather, hide from predators, build nests, raise young and rest; trees, shrubs, tall grass, flowers, brush piles and snags can all offer much needed respite from the elements. And finally space, though amounts may differ, all species require some amount of space, both vertically and horizontally. This space defines where they find all the essential requirements for survival, some species are territorial and will vigorously defend their space. Species, season and habitat quality will determine the amount of space required.
The use of native plants to attract birds and provide habitat will yield the best results. Plants that naturally occur in your region will have evolved with the local and migrating bird populations, making them a good fit, dependent on each other for survival. Native plants are adapted to regional conditions, they take little care to thrive and will efficiently use resources.
There a few basic steps to making your yard more attractive to birds and wildlife by naturally increasing the habitat value:
- Determine which birds and/or wildlife you are most interested in, find a guide to identifying them which also describes their habitat requirements,
- Identify and inventory the vegetation already present on your property, your arborist can assist with this as well as choice and placement for new plant installations,
- Draw a map of your property, include utilities, impermeable surfaces, permanent structures, septic tanks and existing plants and shrubs. Note habitat needs already met and those lacking,
- Identify native vegetation growing in your region, again consult your arborist with questions as well as what you are most interested in planting, your local agricultural extension can also help with finding a reputable nursery,
- Consult with your arborist to develop a sustainable landscape management plan, account for tree and shrub growth and sizes at maturity, fertilization requirements, irrigation needs, pest and disease control potential,
- Develop a budget for landscape improvements, keeping in mind that plantings and improvements may need to take place over several seasons,
- Maintain your newly created habitat according to your plan and with regular conversations with your arborist; prune, fertilize, mulch, weed and mow as necessary.
Creating habitat can seem overwhelming, becoming knowledgeable, knowing your budgetary and resource limitations, identifying resources for help (like your arborist and agricultural extension) will all go a long way towards making a beautiful and efficient landscape which attracts birds and wildlife for years to come.