White Breasted Nuthatch Cardinal

Planting for Birds

The seed catalogs have been arriving like clockwork for the past month and it is delightful to look through all the beautiful and colorful pictures of flowers and vegetables at a time when the ground is covered by two feet of snow. We can paint images in our brains of warmer days and the bounty the earth will bring forth in a few months’ time.  Some people will start to design there garden beds on pieces of paper and start ordering seeds.

In our local supermarket the rack with seeds has been put out and stocked with flower and vegetable seeds, tempting all gardeners that walk by.  In northern Minnesota where we live we are a good three months away from planting season, but we can dream.

You might not be thinking about gardening and how it can enhance your bird feeding options on your property but there are many flowers and fruits that can be planted with the birds in mind.  Much has been written about the importance of planting flowers for the pollinators (bees and butterflies), but less has been written about providing for the birds. Just as important is the planting of native species – ones that are adapted for the birds that come year after year to our yards and bird feeders.  Planting non-native species leads to problems of invasive insects and diseases.

Do you have a large lawn that you must maintain all summer (using fossil fuels to mow and applying herbicides or fertilizers?) Think how all or even some of that space could become friendly bird habitat. Currently there are 40 million acres of lawn across the country. What a great change it would be if even a portion were converted to native plantings of flowers, trees and shrubs. If you would like to learn more about this process, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is offering an on-line course of Gardening for Birds and Wildlife. This will help you learn about the appropriate plants for your area and the types of birds it will attract.

As mentioned earlier we know how certain plants attract pollinators like butterflies; they not only provide nectar but they become sites where insects lay their eggs. These hatch out as larvae and then become a food source for birds. Any flowers that attract insects will attract birds because 95 percent of North American songbirds feed on insects.

The top 10 flowers/shrubs to plant for birds are: Sunflowers, Coneflowers, Cornflower, Black-eyed Susan, Daisy,

Chickadees harvesting seeds from sunflowers

Chickadees harvesting seeds from sunflowers

An American Goldfinch checking out some coneflowers

An American Goldfinch checking out some coneflowers

Aster, Marigold, Virginia Creeper, Elderberry and Staghorn Sumac. Of all these the Sunflower is my favorite. And right now it is a flower that millions of people around the world are thinking about since it is the national flower of the Ukraine.  It has become a global symbol of resistance, hope, and unity.  In the summer of 1996, sunflowers were planted by officials at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine to mark the removal of nuclear weapons from the country. At that time they had the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal.

People are posting photos of sunflowers on their Facebook pages and I predict that we will see more sunflowers in people’s gardens this year than ever before. When I was at the grocery store this week I saw a friend with several packets of sunflower seeds in her basket.  I will plant them again as soon as the soil is warm enough. They can be a challenge to get started because lots of critters like to eat the young sprouts but with persistence they will grow into tall, multiflowered beauties. These become self-serve seed heads at the end of the summer and you can either let them stand in your garden through the winter or you can harvest the heads and put them out periodically along with your regular supply of  wild bird seed and let the birds harvest the ripe seeds. This flower has always represented the sun’s warmth and energy; today it represents so much more.

By Kate Crowley