|Northern mockingbirds are attracted to berry-producing plants and shrubs. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Open spaces provide areas for certain species of birds to forage for food. But it can also spell danger. Layering tall, medium and low plants throughout the yard allows birds to take cover when they need it.
“Planting trees, shrubs and vines in different heights will make your yard more attractive to birds,” said Toni Bancroft, assistant manager of Armstrong Garden Center in Laguna Niguel. “The plants provide food, shelter and places to nest.”
Trees that invite birds include the Western Redbud, which produces vibrant magenta blossoms in the spring. Many species eat the seeds, while others tap the nectar of the flowers. Dense conifers provide hideaways for the birds, protecting them from wind and rain, as well as an escape from predators. Finches, pine siskins, chickadees and woodpeckers eat the seeds from the pine cones and glean insects from the bark. Oaks produce acorns, an important food source for California scrub jays and woodpeckers.
California native plants are particularly important because they are closely tied to the needs of the birds in our area, Bancroft explained. Having a diversity of these plants in your backyard habitat will attract a diversity of birds.
Penstemon, salvia, Lion’s Tail, cape honeysuckle, aloe and milkweed are just a few of the nectar-producing plants for hummingbirds, she said.
If you’re trying to entice goldfinches, let flowering plants go to seed. The diet of American and lesser goldfinches consists almost entirely of seed. Some bird enthusiasts claim they’re attracted to the color yellow, so add sunflowers, black-eyed Susan and goldenrod if you want goldfinches to flock to your yard. Thistle, grasses and weedy plants are also a draw for these showy birds.
Birds are beneficial to gardens. “They can be nature’s pest control,” she said.
Don’t be so quick to rake up every leaf in your yard. Insect-eaters, including California towhees and Bewick’s wrens scratch around in piles of leaves to forage for food.
Fruit-producing natives that grow well in our climate include California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, wild strawberry, California coffeeberry, California grapes, Western serviceberry and toyon, a small evergreen shrub also known as Christmas berry or California holly.
Winter berry-producing native shrubs provide sustenance for year-round species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers and Northern mockingbirds. Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings.
If you plant blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and boysenberries for food, you’re likely to be sharing them with the birds. Mylar tape, similar to that used in vineyards, can be effective in scaring birds away from the berries until you’re ready to share the crop.
Armstrong Garden Centers offers free garden classes at all of its Orange County locations, except the Irvine outlet. “Growing Your Own Berries” will be the next topic at 9 a.m. Feb. 4. Workshops on bird gardening are offered periodically. For a schedule of upcoming events, go to armstronggarden.com. No registration is needed.