Nursery Notes: Attracting birds may require the right type of plants

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Each fall, usually mid-October, a group of local bird watching enthusiasts comes out to the Wayside Gardens for a morning bird count. Some years there are up to a dozen different species, and some years less due to the nature of our weather. In any case, the fall colours of the gardens are more reliably spectacular and well worth the trip on their own account.

The National Audubon Society conducts a more comprehensive bird count during the two weeks before and after Christmas — essentially, right now. Information collected can be used to track avian population trends, range fluctuations and winter species distribution.

What’s all this have to do with the nursery? Well, we occasionally sell plants to folks who wish to attract more of the local winged wildlife to their gardens. Native birds tend to feed on native plant material for the most part, but not exclusively. Think of seeds and berries for the bird’s banquet. Sometimes it’s not the seeds that they are after but the insects that can be found on the plants. Ordinarily, this thought makes my skin crawl but in a forest situation it just a fact of life.

A short list of trees that attract birds to them would include true fir trees like grand fir and subalpine fir, maples like Amur maple, Tartarian maple or Manitoba maple, saskatoons, birches, hackberry, hawthorn, Russian olive, junipers like Rocky Mountain juniper, larch, crabapples, spruce, pine, cherry, oak, hemlock and cedar. Shrubs like chokeberry (Aronia), barberry, dogwood, cotoneaster, burning bush, privet, honeysuckles, rose, elderberry, buffaloberry, snowberry, sea buckthorn, vibernum, Oregon grape, holly and kinnikinnik. raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, currant and gooseberry will also attract birds but you may wish to discourage this in your home garden.

Try planting a decoy crop with a tart tasting berry nearby that the birds would prefer. Mulberry has been suggested but I have a hard time stocking it in the nursery. Alternately, a flexible netting can be draped over plants to conserve your preferred crops.

Specific birds, for instance, hummingbirds, feed largely on nectar from tubular shaped flowers. Knowing this we can plant butterfly bush, beauty bush, weigela, currant, honeysuckle, hibiscus, flowering quince and trumpet vines. Annuals like snapdragons have gained favour in recent years for this and their resistance to deer browsing. Impatiens, flowering tobacco, petunia, phlox, salvia and nasturtiums are also known to attract hummingbirds.

When snow falls on the ground and the buzz of Christmas preparations slows, I find this is a great time of year to have a fresh look at the plants outside and this includes the little chickadees living in and amongst the evergreen shrubs just outside our home. Besides food and water, plant life offers the birds shelter, a place to nest and rear their young, protection from predators and the cold winter wind, as well as protection from the heat of a hot summer’s sun.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.