Bird Friendly Habitat
Backyards and gardens play an important - and increasing - role in providing habitat, food, and shelter for birds across our urban and rural communities. Gardens can be refuges and oases for migratory birds as well as year round homes for our feathered friends.
But what makes a backyard an oasis for birds?
When you design a garden for birds, the first thing you start with is the water. Most people would assume it’s the plants, or even the bird boxes, but water draws insects and life, and with life comes the birds. Naturalized ponds--regardless of size--provided that they are clean and aerated are much needed resources for migratory birds and the basis of life for our resident birds. Not enough room for a pond? A bird bath can be just as helpful.
Plants provide the nesting spaces, direct food (via seds, fruits and berries), indirect food (via insects), and shelter to weather nature's inclement weather. Planting for birds involves looking carefully at what works with your garden taste (we all have it!) but ensuring that native plants are welcomed and flourish in our space. These native plants are critically important to plan for as supplemental bird feeders do need to be periodically taken down for cleaning--especially if a diseased bird has been spotted. When the feeder is down, birds need these natural sources of food to keep going. Planting strategically not only benefit birds, you can create planting buffers that help muffle sound, generate privacy, and act as a windbreak.
Freedom from predators
Nature is not kind, and life is a constant struggle for all animals - birds being no exception. If your area is prone to have wandering cats, this will absolutely guarantee that birds will move elsewhere.
Shelter can come in many different forms. We can plant it with native trees (especially conifers or evergreens for winter months) and shrubs, but sometimes we may not have the space (or permission) for these long-lived plants. We can supplement shelter with bird boxes, roosts, and - most importantly - last years garden detritus.
As humans, we don’t like untidy things, and have an urge to make things tidy and neat. But one of the most important things we can do to make our gardens a bird oasis is to leave nature to do what she does best: Recycle. Leaving fallen leaves, twigs, and branches to slowly build up over winter provides natural mulch to protect our plants, and also serves as shelter for small mammals and insects that need to over-winter and provide food for our birds the following spring. These animals form the essential food sources for many birds who are caught between having exhausted the available native seed supply and waiting for the spring flush of growth. You can easily support birds at home this spring by waiting to start your yard clean-up. We recommend waiting until temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius to give your wild neighbours the best start this spring.
Embracing the Dead
As morbid as that may sound, embracing the dead may be one of the easiest - but hardest things for us to do. If a plant or tree has died, we immediately want to plant something that will be alive and grow into the future. We love life. But dead things harbour much life in nature. Dead trees and branches create cavities for songbirds, owls and squirrels to raise their young. And many species cache food under the bark of dying trees to get them through the cold snaps. Consider the ecological value of that dead tree or shrub before removing it, it may surprise you!
Our gardens are not just for summer flowers. In Canada, we have four seasons, and in order for our gardens to be the bird oases we would like, we need to plan as best we can for those four seasons by thinking about our space as a bird would.
How inviting is your garden in late winter and early spring - the most challenging season for birds? Are there native seed heads? Is there natural cover? Is there shelter from predators?
We can all do our bit to create--or recreate--a garden that every bird would be proud to call home.