Making Your Garden a Refuge for Birds (and You)

By JULIE HANSON | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Whether your garden is an expanse of lawns, trees and bushes, or just a quiet corner of a patio, it should be beautiful and relaxing. And one of the best additions to a garden, beyond lovely plants, is the color and happy chirping of birds.

Luckily, it is easy to attract birds to your garden. All you have to do is provide the things birds (and all of us) need: food, water, shelter and a safe place to raise children. And the plants that you choose are a key component in creating a refuge they will want to visit again and again.

Food

Besides having a well-chosen bird feeder, certain plants are sure to attract birds as well as butterflies. Native plants and bushes, such as chia (salvia columbariae), provide seeds that birds love, as well as beautiful blue flowers. A native toyon bush (Heteromeles arbutifolia), with its striking red trunks, has berries that are an important winter food source.

Honeysuckle vines (Lonicera) with flowers in multiple colors do triple duty. The nectar brings hummingbirds and butterflies, while the berries are cherished by many different birds. Plus, it uses relatively little water while adding greenery and color to your garden.

Besides adding a simple hummingbird feeder, consider planting salvia spathacea, with its rose-colored flowers. Rightly called Hummingbird Sage, it always attracts the tiny hummers. Also thrifty with water, this perennial will give years of lovely flowers and hummingbird sightings.

Water

The gentle trickle of water is, not only soothing, but also essential for bringing birds. A bird bath or a small fountain made from a stone-filled garden pot and a water pump are ideal for birds, who need to drink and bathe every day.

It’s even better if the water is kept moving, as a fountain does or with a “water wiggler,” a water agitator designed for bird baths.

Shelter

The more different plants at varying heights that you can manage, the more different birds you will attract. At least one thickly leaved bush or small tree with many branches is important. These give birds a place to shelter from sun, rain and predators, while providing an observation post. They like to check out the area around a feeder before they fly in to eat.

Smaller citrus trees, such as kumquat or lemon, can be ideal for shelter. Honeysuckles are an excellent dense vine to shelter small songbirds, such as finches. A clump of low native plants, such as Salvia Bee’s Bliss (Bee’s Bliss) with its fragrant violet flowers or wild rose bushes provide shelter for ground feeders (doves, juncos and quail). Goldfinches and quail especially like the nutritious hips of the wild roses.

Nesting Sites

Birds use a great variety of plants for nesting sites. Woodpeckers and wrens use cavities in dead trees trunks, but, lacking those, go for nesting boxes. These are available in just the right size for each bird. Quail and towhees put nests on the ground beneath protective shrubs, while orioles makes hanging nests high in the outer branches of big trees.

Hummingbird nests are tiny soft cups the size of a quarter with eggs the size of jellybeans. They favor putting nests in the fork between two branches of a large bush or small tree from three feet to 60 feet up. You don’t need a feeder to attract a hummingbird nest—nectar-producing plants will do that.

Birds tend to nest from March through August, so be careful when pruning at that time.

With food, water and shelter you can relax in your beautiful refuge and just enjoy the cheerful chirps.

Julie Hanson is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 12433 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call 424-272-9000.