Gardening is for the birds

Wayne Hobbs, Environmental Horticulture Agent
Posted 2/14/18

Gardening is not just about plants, but the amazing animals that go along with providing some great habitat. One of my favorites is to watch different species of birds visit the landscape, with …

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Gardening is for the birds


Gardening is not just about plants, but the amazing animals that go along with providing some great habitat. One of my favorites is to watch different species of birds visit the landscape, with different occupants throughout the year as the season and food availability changes. Here are some tips if you want to see a great selection of birds in your backyard.

A Place to Settle In

First of all, any birds in your garden will need a place to shelter and nest. This can vary by their preferred way of nesting, with some just needing landscape plants where they can build their own woven structures while others may prefer cavities. For cavity nesters, it is a good idea to leave standing, dead trees (also called snags) but in many smaller yards this is not an option for safety and appearance reasons.

Another option is to design and build nesting boxes. These will vary in design based upon the bird and some good information can be found online at

Some birds also prefer to have some extra space before they move in so if you have a large enough property, plan to create as much habitat as possible and you can also work with neighbors to plan a combined, large scale bird habitat that looks attractive from the sky.

Add Some Food

Birdfeeders can supply food and are a great central location for birding. Choose a design that works for the birds you are trying to attract along with a matching food source such as seed or fruit that is protected from the rain. Be sure to clean the feeder periodically and keep it at least 10-15 feet away from trees to keep squirrels out.

While many people will spread out bird seed for their feathered friends, another option is to plant plants that support bird life. Many plants that provide berries, seeds or fruits can be an asset but some standouts are holly, such as American beautyberry, red mulberry, blueberry and sparkleberry. Some ornamental grasses can also provide a seed source for the birds. If you would like to attract hummingbirds, provide plants with tubular, nectar producing flowers like firebush or shrimp plant.

Another overlooked but very important food source is insects. Try to avoid using heavy amounts of broad-spectrum pesticides that kill a large variety of invertebrates. Targeted applications for specific pests is fine but many birds are much happier when there is a large amount of insects around and they can even provide some natural pest control.

Just a Bit of Water

Birds require water for drinking and bathing so providing this resource is essential. This can be in the form of natural waterways if you are lucky enough, small ponds, or bird baths. Bird baths can be on a pedestal or on the ground but make sure they are in a shady spot to keep it cool and away from dense vegetation where predators can hide. Placing it near a tree can lead to a direct escape route and having it next to a water source makes it easier to fill and clean, which should be done about every 10 days.

If you have any horticultural, agricultural, 4-H, or family and consumer science questions, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Clay County Extension Office online at or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.


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