Attracting Birds To Your Garden

by Terra Hangen

THAT WOULD A GARDEN BE without bird song and bird aerial ballets? If your garden in Florida doesn’t already resonate with the sweet songs of birds, you will readily attract some feathered friends by following these tips. If you already have a constant supply of bird visitors, here are ideas to help you welcome even more songsters.

Florida is paradise for bird lovers with incredible diversity in birds, including more than 480 bird species. In addition to year round bird residents, Florida provides a winter haven for many species that return north in spring. Gardeners here readily attract a wide variety of bird visitors, both common and rare. Using these ideas, you can attract Purple Martins, Summer Tanagers, Painted Buntings, Eastern Mockingbirds and more to your garden.

Providing fresh clean water is a great attraction. Water coaxes migrating birds to stop for a drink and a rest. A birdbath you can make involves a stand made of a large clay pot that you turn upside down. The water basin is made from a large clay saucer that is glazed. The ideal way to provide water is with a traditional bird bath on a pedestal. It is good to place the bird bath on a lawn, or surrounded by short flowers or shrubs, to eliminate cover for cats to sneak up on the birds.

A second water attraction that magically fascinates birds is dripping water. Especially during the long hot summer, birds can’t seem to resist this feature. If you set up a source of dripping water, birds that you have not seen before will visit your yard. You can buy little water drippers that attach to a bird bath. These use a small pump and a hookup to a garden hose. For another approach, pound a nail into a plastic pail, creating a tiny hole, then fill the pail with water and hang it up high. Place a container underneath it to hold water, so that the falling drops make a sound as they hit the container. Hummingbirds, Crested Flycatchers, Swallows and Goldfinches are enamored of the sound and the sight of this drip drip dripping, and will take showers and drinks in mid-air. This is much more entertaining to watch than anything TV has to offer.

I suggest that you purchase a bird identification book, like “Florida’s Birds” by Herbert Kale, or any Audubon or Roger Tory Peterson guide book. An easy way to start feeding your garden birds is with one of the tube bird feeders filled with black sunflower seeds. You will attract many athletic perching birds with this type of feeder and food, including Purple Finches, Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Chickadees, and Painted Buntings.

Birds like Mourning Doves and Rock Doves can’t cling to tiny perches while feeding and will welcome a flat platform feeder. The doves will be joined by the versatile Grosbeaks, Buntings, Cardinals, Scrub Jays and Finches. Serve mixed grains as food in these platform feeders, containing white proso millet, wheat and Milo (sorghum), thistle (Niger) seeds and black sunflower seed. Millet is a nutritious grain with essential amino acids, wheat and Milo are favored by small birds, thistle is high in protein and fat, and sunflower seeds provide oils. Scout your house for a perfect window where you can attach a platform feeder right outside the window. My favored window for platform feeders is the kitchen window over the sink, where dish washing becomes more fun when feathered visitors drop by for a snack of seeds or grapes.

Peanuts are high in protein and oils and Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Florida Scrub Jays will come over to feast on them. Unshelled peanuts can be bought at feed stores at a very reasonable price.

Cut an orange in half, pound a nail into a fence, and push the orange onto the nail, skin side down, which will attract our Summer Tanagers, Florida Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Spot-Breasted Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Grapes and raisins on a platform feeder will attract Mockingbirds, Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings.

For sheer beauty hummingbirds look like jewels dancing as they visit flowers in search of nectar and the occasional insect. The only hummingbird that breeds in Florida is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird; others that visit include the Rufous and Black-chinned, Anna’s, Calliope’s and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds. Hummers love flowers that look like small tubes, including trumpet vines, fuchsias, honey suckle, flowering sages, jasmine, coral bells, scarlet morning glory, tulip tree, red buckeye, and sweet pepper bush.

Also provide sugar water from a hummingbird feeder. You can buy a food mix or dissolve 1/4 cup white sugar in 1 cup boiling water. Do not put the hanging feeder in the sun, where the water can get dangerously hot, and do not make food for the feeder with honey which can cause disease in the birds.

You can boost the numbers of bird visitors by selecting plants that give birds food and shelter. An excellent bush is the Wax Myrtle, also called Southern Wax Myrtle, Bayberry or Candleberry. Birds will nest in this shrub and the berries are prized by White-Eyed Vireos, Myrtle Warblers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Rufous-sided Towhees, Eastern Kingbirds (Bee Birds) and Bobwhites. Indian Hawthorne provides shelter, pink flowers and berries for the birds, and Pineapple Guava’s fruits are relished by many fruit eating birds.

The Elderberry produces small juicy fruits sought by 120 species of songbirds, from the Indigo Bunting to Woodpeckers, Towhees, Orioles and Kingbirds. Sunflowers are a prime bird attraction for birds like Grosbeaks (Black-headed, Blue and Rose-breasted), Scrub Jays, Sparrows (Harris’, House, Lark, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Song), Florida Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and American Goldfinches.
So go ahead and fill your garden with bird song and brilliant color. Your garden will gain in beauty and you will be joining a movement which is making space and providing food for songbirds. Their grace and their antics will repay you a thousand times. •

from the July-August 2007 issue

Florida Scrub Jays love peanuts

A water attraction that magically fascinates birds is dripping water.

Ruby-Throated Hummingirds are the only hummingbird that breeds in Florida