Birds in the Garden

Mockingbird fledgling

Mockingbird fledgling

I’ve been thinking about birds a lot lately as I watch my summer visitors go elsewhere, and the species that grace my yard in the winter return, plus a few travelers heading south for the winter stop in for a rest and a snack.

Birds are a controversial topic among gardeners.  On the one hand, many of them eat undesirable bugs that prey on our garden (or us!), perform pollination tasks and provide life and color to your garden.  On the other hand, they eat your seed heads and sometimes peck tomatoes.  And some birds eat or kill other birds.  That mockingbird fledgling is old enough to have survived the annual crow decimation, but not all of her generation were so lucky.

Some of the undesirable traits of birds can be diminished.  For example, by keeping out clean water in a birdbath, most birds won’t peck your tomatoes for water.  It’s also good for the local bees, so be sure the edges are sloped or you provide an insect ramp.  And while birds may spread some weed seeds, they also eat weed seeds.

Unlike many animals, many species of birds do just fine around humans, but not necessarily the native birds.  So not having any birds in your garden is really not possible.

I take the opposite tack — I actively encourage a diversity birds with fresh water sources, safe nesting boxes and habitat, hunting grounds like pine straw and mulch, and bird feeders.  Even if the birds visiting my feeders aren’t ones eating the cabbage worms, happy birds attract more birds.  They also attract Cooper’s Hawks and other predators, but these predators also keep down rodents and other garden raiders.

I think that having a variety of birds is not only good for my garden’s health, but their songs and antics are good for my mental health.  Instead of the distant sound of traffic, right now I hear the Carolina Wren trilling outside my window, the distant caws of Blue Jays, the chirps of the cardinals and the whistles of the mosquito-eating chickadees, among others.  But beyond that, I believe gardening is not about what you can seize from the earth, but about making a spot of land bloom and grow and be just a bit better than it was.  It means letting part of your land run wild with native species and multi-layered habitat.  And it is especially true when you replace a lawn monoculture with herbs, fruits, vegetables and other plants that provide important food and nectar sources for both us and the creatures which share our planet.

And for me, at least, it really is entirely about sharing space and resources as best I can.  I need to eat, but so do they.

What a strange tree this is.

What a strange tree this is.

(By Nicole Castle)

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