July 19, 2024


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Love the flutter and chirp of birds? Here’s how to design your garden to attract them | Home/Garden

While working in my yard and enjoying this amazing fall weather, the sounds of birds were a welcome delight. I love to hear the chirping and singing of various birds on my wooded property. I may not know which birds are making the sounds, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying them.

Birds add interest, movement and color, in addition to beautiful sounds, to our gardens. Many bird species feed on insects, and this can help hold down populations of pests that may damage plants in landscapes or gardens.

Gardeners can even design and plant landscapes that are particularly attractive to birds (fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs). Some people are motivated to do this by the increasing loss of natural habitat facing many bird species.

So, what can we do to encourage birds to live in our landscapes? The primary features the environment must provide include shelter, nesting sites, food and water.

A year’s worth of garden tips from local New Orleans growers _lowres (copy)

Baby birds in a nest at the Audubon Nature Center in New Orleans

Shelter and nesting

Although people often provide food and water for birds, shelter and nesting sites should not be overlooked. If you can provide a place for birds to nest, you’ll have the pleasure of knowing you are helping native bird species to survive. Also, nesting birds catch lots of insects to feed their babies.

A number of birds will nest in trees and large shrubs, though each species shows a strong preference for the specific elevation.

Some birds sing and feed in the high canopy but nest in the lower canopy, while others feed on the ground, nest in shrubs and sing from the highest trees. These bird movements demonstrate that a multilevel planting design is important.

Adding levels to a plant community increases surface area by creating more leaves, stems, nooks and crannies on which birds can nest, feed and sing. The use of various size shrubs and small as well as larger trees planted in masses or groups will achieve this.

Shelter for nesting may also be provided with birdhouses or bird boxes. These human-made structures can house birds that would rarely find suitable sites in urban areas. For instance, birds that nest in the cavities of dead trees will find few sites available because dead trees are quickly removed from urban landscapes.

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Gourds are used as birdhouses in the Botanical Gardens.

It is very important that the birdhouse is built to the specific dimensions needed for the particular bird the house is meant for. This includes the dimensions of the house and size of the entrance. Decorative bird houses meant more for show will rarely be utilized.

It is also critical to locate the birdhouse in the right spot. Birdhouses may be utilized by birds such as the purple martin, house finch, woodpeckers, robin, sparrow and Eastern bluebird, to name a few.

If birds ignore the houses you’ve installed for them, make sure you have done everything correctly on the dimensions and location of the house — and then be patient. Even done properly, a brand-new house may be viewed at first with suspicion.

Fall is a good time to put up bird houses, because they would have some time to weather before the birds start to use them next spring.

A Mandeville garden gone to the birds: two lots, one gardener and plenty room for feathered friends (copy)

A red-bellied woodpecker enjoys dining out in a bird feeder.


Include plants in your landscape that produce fruit that birds will eat, such as native hollies, cherry laurel and hawthorns (Crataegus species). Putting out bird feeders is another popular option for attracting birds. When setting up a feeding station, be sure you are willing to make a commitment to maintaining a dependable food supply and to keep the health and safety of the birds in mind.

Some of the seeds commonly found in inexpensive commercial mixes, such as wheat, milo, peanut hearts, hulled oats and rice, are unattractive to many birds. This does not mean that that these seeds won’t be eaten, but preferred seeds will be eaten first and tend to attract birds that might not otherwise visit a feeder.

Thistle seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, small black oil-type sunflower seeds, white proso millet and finely cracked corn are very useful for attracting particular species.

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A ruby-throated humming bird approaches a grouping of irises.

Ruby throated hummingbirds are found all around southeast Louisiana in spring, summer and fall (sometimes during winter). Attracting hummingbirds can be as easy as hanging a feeder, but that is not always successful.

Many gardeners have found that planting hummingbird attracting plants, in addition to maintaining feeders, is a good method for successfully attracting hummers. I was thrilled to see a hummingbird feeding on some red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) that were blooming recently near my bedroom window.

Place bird feeders high enough so that domestic cats cannot attack the birds while they are feeding, and place them so they can be clearly seen from windows for maximum viewing pleasure. Hummingbird feeders are most effective when located within view of flowers that attract hummingbirds.

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Fountains can be beautiful, but they also offer water and a way to cool off for wildlife.


Water can make a feeding station more attractive. By providing water (which birds use for both drinking and bathing), you may encourage birds to stay in your yard. Many commercial watering trays and birdbaths are available, but you can use almost any shallow container so they can drink and/or bathe. Make sure you regularly add fresh water to the bird bath and clean it as needed.

This is just a taste of the information available on gardening with birds in mind. For detailed information, I recommend two excellent books: Attracting “Birds to Southern Gardens” by Thomas Pope, Neil Odenwald and Charles Fryling Jr. and “Hummingbird Gardens” by Nancy Newfield and Barbara Nielsen.

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