Attracting songbirds to the garden brings a new level of color, sound and activity to any garden space! But, being successful in attracting these feathered neighbors means opting for a solidly packed, multi-layer landscape that has an array of plants to supply structure and food throughout the year. When designing and planting beds and borders, think both horizontally and vertically and include a range of plants, from annuals to perennials, herbs, vegetables, and grasses. For example, the seed heads of perennials and ornamental grasses draw fall ground-feeding birds and supply cover for birds as they forage on the ground. And there is nothing like sunflower seed heads to make the goldfinches chattering and happy in late summer!
· Include a Birdbath: Birds love to splash in water, so including a bird bath is a good method to attract songbirds. Place the birdbath in an open location so the birds can keep an eye on their surroundings and watch for potential predators; change the water every few days. You can even add a flat rock just above water level for a landing spot!
· Remove Nonnative Plants in Favor of Nutritious Natives: As a tool for attracting songbirds to the garden, native plants provide a balanced diet of seeds and fruits that ripen at critical times. The more natives you plant, the more insects you draw, and the more varieties of songbirds that will visit.
· Include Trees and Shrubs in Your Wildlife Garden: Trees and shrubs provide shelter from storms, hiding places from predators and supply a spot for birds to build a nest, which is helpful in attracting songbirds to the garden. Trees that bear fruits and nuts, such as flowering crabapple, also offer food to many songbirds. Include several specimens for as much variety as possible. Include at least one thorny species, such as hawthorn or rose, to provide protective perches. A few dense evergreens (juniper, spruce, yew) offer winter cover; a variety of berry-producing species such as dogwood, serviceberry, chokeberry, and viburnum provide fruit at different times in the season.
· Reduce the Size of Your Lawn: A yard with fewer square feet devoted to turf and more space with wildlife-attracting landscape will naturally have more songbirds. For native grasses, good choices for attracting songbirds to the garden include switch grass and little bluestem; cut them back once per year in early spring.
· Avoid Herbicides, Pesticides, and Fertilizers: Any of these substances can be deadly to birds and other wildlife. A better bet to attracting songbirds to the garden is to rely on biological controls for insect pests and keep weeds down by pulling them when they are small and before they have a chance to go to seed.
· Keep Cats Indoors: Your felines may want to roam, but cats cause the death of millions of songbirds each year. Your best bet for attracting songbirds to the garden is to separate the two.
· Figure out the Songbirds' Favorite Meals: To draw birds in, find a seed or food that is specific to the birds you want to attract. In addition, you'll draw a more interesting variety of birds than you would with a general wild bird blend. For help with feeders, seeds and other options, my favorite local source for help in this area is Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 20381 Mack Avenue, Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, 48236, or look for other locations at their website.
· Maintain Bird Feeders and Birdhouses: Feeders and birdhouses are great tools for attracting songbirds to the garden, but you must keep them in good shape. Clean feeders monthly to keep free of disease-causing bacteria; use a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Clean out and repair boxes in late winter before nesting season begins.