Written by: Summer Graham
On September 9th I attended the online webinar “Gardening for the Birds” with Kevin Kavanagh and hosted by North American Native Plant Society (NANPS). The webinar was targeted at individuals interested in selecting native species for their gardens that would help support bird populations. Even as someone with over 5 years of experience in the field of ecology and with an interest in native plants, I found myself learning new information and gaining valuable lessons from the presentation.
The webinar was recorded, and you will be able to view it on the NANPS website in the coming weeks, but if you don’t have the time or prefer to read, I’ve provided a summary of some key take-aways below!
One of the first topics covered in the webinar was the benefits of gardens and what your garden can provide for local wildlife. Your garden, when planned correctly, can support breeding (species that come to an area during the breeding season to nest), resident birds (birds that remain in the area throughout most of their lifecycles), and non-resident or migratory birds travelling long distances (species that are just passing through in spring and fall). It is also important to remember that when we improve the landscape for birds, we also provide habitat for a variety of other wildlife as well.
For example, look at Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). You may plant this attractive species to help support birds who are attracted to the seeds like Wood Thrush, but you are also supporting other species, including many insects like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Silkmoth, and Spicebush Swallowtail.
In terms of overall benefits to birds, your yard can provide:
Ideally, the species you select for your garden will:
Note: Gardens and yards are often drier than adjacent natural areas. Just because a species is found in a ravine near your house doesn’t mean it wants to be in your yard!
Check out the Network of Nature “Find my Ecozone” page to learn more about what grows in your region. Remember, just because a species is native to your province or territory doesn’t mean it belongs in your ecozone! Try and keep it as locally appropriate as possible.
Birds and other wildlife respond to habitat, not just species. For example, you may attract a few more birds to your yard by planting a single, native shrub, but you will attract far more if you introduce multiple species and habitat features to the area. This is important to remember when you plan your yard, as you have an opportunity to provide habitat that isn’t available in adjacent yards or natural areas around you.
For example, maybe you live next to a forest that has plenty of mature trees but lacks a shrubby understory. By planting shrubs and other bushes in your yard, you attract species that are looking for shelter or for nesting locations closer to the ground.
Or perhaps your neighbors have a wonderful prairie pollinator garden, but don’t have a water feature? By adding a pond to your garden, you will provide a water source for birds and other wildlife that are already in the area.
Another thing to consider is how you can provide food, shelter, and water year-round, not just in the warmer months. You can do this by planning and diversifying the species in your yard, so flowers, berries, and seeds are available during different seasons.
Although the list of native species for wildlife is extensive, below is a summary of different plants you might consider based on your location (most of these species are suitable for southern Ontario) and the types of birds you are looking to attract. For more detail on what to plant for certain species, check out the Birds Canada site BirdGardens.ca!
There are several species you can plant that produce fruit for birds including:
Small/medium sized seeds
Many of these native plants flower and attract native pollinators while also acting as egg hosts. Be sure not to deadhead (remove old flower heads to try and encourage a second bloom) or cut back the plants until birds have taken advantage of the many seeds!
Larger trees like our native Oak (Quercus sp.) and Hickory (Carya sp.) species produce nuts and acorns perfect for larger species like woodpeckers.
Nectar feeders, like Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, benefit from spring to fall blooms. A combination of Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), and Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) would be a feast for them!
White Pine (Pinus strobus) is probably the best native species for attracting birds that feed on cone seeds. Make sure you have enough room in your yard before planting though!
Native Willows (Salix sp.) are ideal for attracting warblers that feed on native insects. By flowering early, willows provide habitat for many native insects in the spring when warblers are migrating back from the south.
When aiming to provide habitat, it was suggested earlier to look at surrounding areas (but not necessarily staking out your neighbours’ gardens!) for features that may be missing on the landscape scale that you can add to your yard.
You should also consider letting leaves stay on your yard rather than tidying them up, as this provides habitat for insects and will attract species such as Northern Flicker that like to forage on the ground for food. If you can, set out some decomposing logs or stumps to provide additional habitat, as well as a perching spot for ground foraging species to hop up on and check their surroundings for predators while they feed.
A water feature can be a great addition to a wildlife garden but be sure it includes the right characteristics to maximize its benefit to local species!
Most importantly, keep your water feature clean! Wildlife won’t use it if they sense something is “off”, and diseases can be spread through features shared by many animals.
All this information might be overwhelming, and you might not know where to start. The best advice is to START SMALL! You don’t have to transform your backyard into a bird paradise overnight, and in terms of budget, time, and commitment, it’s probably best if you don’t. Look to plant a couple native shrubs, and introduce a few habitat features at a time.
Once those species are well established and require less care to thrive, move on to the next thing. By taking on too much at one time, you risk burnout and might become unmotivated to continue if plants start to die and your yard becomes more like a desert than an oasis.
Once you are ready to get started, head to our Native Plant Nursery Finder to discover local places to purchase your plants!
Written by: Summer Graham
Title: Bringing Nature Home - How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (updated and expanded)
Author: Douglas W. Tallamy, forward by Rick Darke
Length: 360 pages (paperback)
Formats Available: paperback, audiobook, and E-book
I first encountered a reference to Douglas Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” while I was reading an article on the issue of invasive Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) dominating the unique ravine ecosystem in Toronto, Ontario. As someone who feels as though they are constantly struggling to find the right words to explain the threats invasive and non-native species pose to the environment, the book quickly went to the top of my “must-read” list. In this updated and expanded version of his book, Tallamy sets out to inspire the every-day, suburban gardener to look critically at the species they use in their gardens, and then make changes to support our native wildlife.
Tallamy is a professor at the University of Delaware in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. He has authored over 80 research publications and lectured on a variety of topics for 36 years, including insect taxonomy, insect ecology, humans and nature, and behavioral ecology. In “Bringing Nature Home” Tallamy shares much of his knowledge on one of his primary research goals, understanding the way insects interact with vegetation and how this can determine and impact wildlife communities.
Although covering fairly heavy topics such as habitat loss, urban development, and drastic declines in species populations, Tallamy writes in a tone that is light and easy to read even though it is based on facts and scientific studies. The numerous, colourful photographs depicting native flora and fauna help to inspire the reader with visions of what their garden could be, and the wildlife it could support, with just a few easy changes. Tallamy also writes of personal experiences and his work transforming his own property, which in my opinion gives him even more credibility on the topic (if any is needed!).
One of my favourite sections is the final one, “Answers to Tough Questions”. Here you can find content addressing those tricky questions, ones you might come up against when trying to explain to your Aunt why she shouldn’t plant a Norway Maple in her back yard, or convincing your father of the importance of removing European Common Reed (Phragmites australis australis) from the pond in his woods. Believe me, once you have read “Bringing Nature Home” and start making changes in your own backyard, you will soon want to buy a copy for every friend and family member to help your efforts multiply. The review on the front of the book says it all, “If you have a backyard, this book is for you”.
Written by: Bianca Marcellino
Pollinators are organisms that feed on flowering plants and in return, help plants to reproduce by spreading pollen from flower to flower and aiding in plant fertilization; this interaction is arguably the most important mutualism relationships on Earth. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, some beetles, birds and bats. Pollinators help to sustain ecosystems and produce natural resources such as many forms of produce for human and animal consumption. The protection of the world’s pollinators and all the ecosystems they service is of global importance, as pollinators are responsible for pollinating more than 180,000 plant species and 1200 crops, which can be broken down to 1 in every 3 bites of food you take relying on pollinators. Quantitatively, they contribute over 217 billion dollars to the global economy, in addition to providing the world with non-monetary ecosystem services as described above.
Unfortunately, pollinators, particularity bees, have been on an alarming decline in recent years. Currently, there is thought to be no single cause for their decline, but a synergism of effects that each contribute including habitat loss, pesticide use, pathogens and intensive farming practices such as mono-cropping limiting pollinators’ food source diversity.
Although it seems like these issues will require large-scale, commercial solutions and ample funds to resolve, backyard flower planting is one way that everyday Canadians can help to ensure pollinators have food sources in urban areas. By planting a variety of flowering plants, it allows pollinators to have access to a diverse food source, fostering healthy immune systems. Opting to plant native plant species is often a good option as they are already a known, stable food source for the pollinators and other native insects and wildlife species.
Late summer to early fall blooming plants are important to pollinators so they can store enough food for themselves to successfully overwinter. Some native later-blooming garden flowers include:
Not only do flowers help pollinators to survive, but they make wonderful additions to any garden!
Pollinator Partnership - 7 Things You Can Do for Pollinators
Seeds of Diversity - Protecting Pollinators
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