January 10, 2004
Gardening for the birds
By Gillian Davidson For the Appeal-Democrat
Gardening and bird watching were recently voted two of America's most popular activities and indeed they go hand in hand with each other. We love our feathered friends for their beauty and their cheerful song. Could you imagine a silent world, a world without birdsong? I don't think there is one person on this planet that hasn't been captivated at least once by the antics and son of a bird.
The sale of bird feeders and birdseed has risen astronomically in the last few years, as have birdbaths and birdhouses.
As gardeners, however, we realize the great benefit of having our avian friends in our garden. They are the best pest control ever. I use no pesticides yet bad bugs never bother me. The problem with pesticides is that they are indiscriminate killers and destroy beneficial insects also.
In the natural world there is generally two good bugs to each bad bug. More often than not, if you do get some undesirable bugs in your garden it won't be long before the good guys find and eliminate them.
Many of these good guys are our birds and it's amazing how many insects one little bird can eat. Blue jays are omnivorous and gobble almost anything in sight: caterpillars, beetles and insects. Oh, I know they eat an occasional egg or baby bird. That is sad, but who are we to talk. Don't we eat cows and cute little lambs? Robins, blackbirds, starlings, wrens and bluebirds are also prodigious insect eaters.
I love California at this time of year when the hot, dusty May to October drought is gone and the rains have turned our hills green again. Our winter is relatively mild compared to the icy north and this brings even more birds to our area.
Flocks of White Crowned sparrows, Cedar Waxwings and Rufus Side Towhees descend upon us. I call the Towhees my "Hummingbird Hill chickens" because most of the time they're scratching among the fallen leaves on the ground for those nasty grubs that are trying to over winter there.
We also have many seed eaters like the finches and juncos that relish a juicy bug with their berry dinner. Along with eating all the bugs, our feathered friends obligingly fertilize out plants
So with these services in mind, it's to our benefit that we attract birds to our gardens. So what are some of the ways we can do this?
I stop deadheading my flowers in autumn and although it might look untidy to some people, those seed heads help sustain the birds through the winter. Actually many dead flower stalks are rather beautiful on a winter's day and add structure to an otherwise bare garden.
It is very important to provide shelter for our bird friends and this is where the evergreens help, especially dense ones like cedars and cypresses.
One way to entice birds to your garden is trickling water, especially in the summer. Birds need a constant supply of clean water to drink and bathe in. Site your water feature near a shrub or tree so the birds have a ready place to escape to.
One last word - if you are gardening for the birds and have a cat, please put a bell on it's collar so it gives the birds warning and time to escape.
Backyard Gardener runs Saturdays. Write to our local master gardeners in care of the Appeal-Democrat, P.O. Box 431, Marysville, CA 95901.