May 2015

Bird friendly environment as easy as a bird bath

A robin bathes in a bird bath. (C) Jarruda/

A robin bathes in a bird bath. (C) Jarruda/

All over Indianapolis, birds are nesting, laying eggs, keeping them warm, hatching babies, keeping them warm and nourished until they take flight.

That’s a lot of work, but gardeners can help lighten the avians’ parental load.

Just like we’re all worried about bees in our landscapes, some of the same practices to support them apply for bird friendly gardens. For instance, reducing or eliminating the use of insecticides means that there will be bees and other bugs in your garden. Birds eat bugs. If no bugs, no food for birds.

If you were only going to do one thing in your landscape to attract birds, a water source would be the way to go. And though we may not think about it, bees and butterflies enjoy the occasional drink, too.

Confession time. A few weeks ago, I was changing the water in a shallow, glass bowl on a wrought iron stand in the front garden. To my horror, there were about a dozen bees drowned in the bowl. To prevent this from happening again, placed a thick and flat rock in the dish. The rock protrudes above the water level to provide bees, butterflies and birds a mini-landing pad and reduce the chance the bugs will drown.

I had a similar birdbath several years ago, only the glass bowl was much deeper. Again to my horror, there was a male goldfinch drowned in the bowl. So, be mindful of the depth of the birdbath.

A lot of us provide seed for birds, too. According to a 2014 Wild Bird Feeding Industry Research Foundation’s report, 39.4 percent, or 52.3 million U.S. households buy wild bird seed “at least sometimes.”

The average household spends $81.21 a year on wild bird seed to total $4.25 billion. U.S. households spent nearly $40 annually on feeders, or $2.06 billion, the foundation reported.

But what kind of seed should you buy? Depends on what kinds of birds you want to feed.

Finches, nuthatches, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, wrens and chickadees are spotted regularly at my niger thistle feeder that hangs in the dogwood outside my living room window.

In the back, I have a feeder for sunflower or safflower seeds. I rotate them to discourage grackles and squirrels, which don’t like safflower seeds. Chipmunks, though, tend to eat any seed I put there. So do cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees, titmice and finches.

Place feeders where you can see them and enjoy their visitors. It’s best to put feeders in an open section of the garden where the falling seed won’t smother plants.

Lastly, create a good habitat in the landscape to provide birds shelter and protection from predators and safe places to nest and raise their young. Shade and ornamental trees, evergreens, flowering shrubs and perennials all fill that need.