The Birds Are Coming...

June 1, 2015

Spring is but a fridge date on the calender, but it is coming and so are the birds. All over Illinois the landscape is changing with homes, roads, removed wind rows and general toppling of habitat and food sources for our welcomed feathery trespassers. Now for those of us that are a bit lucky and have habitat existing in our yards a simple addition of key species and water will do the job. But those that have to start from scratch are in a tricky spot: “Where do I begin???” 

To see all the articles and lists out there you’d think that all you need to do was to plant whatever plant your target species visits and “Voila!” The bird magically appears in your yard. I have included one such list of species, native to Illinois, that is sure to benefit bird populations in your area as an example. However, it is unlikely that any of the special birds that you’re aiming for will show up just because a seedling was planted. To draw birds to your yard you’ll need to do three things. One, create cover by planting borders or cluster plantings that are varied in species and structure.  Remember to match the plantings to your site, i.e. not planting woodland plants in a cornfield for starters. Two, plant species that offer food and forage to birds. Be mindful though that birds main food sources are insects and without them planting for birds is pointless. Three, water. A flowing source seems to bring in the most species, however a clean source of water in birdbaths or troughs will do. Of all the tips and tactics that can be employed to make a yard more bird friendly these three things are the easiest way to bring in the birds. If you’re interested in a little deeper conversation on this go here:

Bear in mind that making your yard a bird haven won’t happen over-night or maybe for a period of years. There is a bit of a waiting period because habitat does not coalesce instantly, and depending on where you live that amount of time will vary wildly. For example, I live in an older neighborhood that has uncovered creeks and mature canopy, mostly oaks (yes I’m lucky). The yard I inherited was nothing but grass and trees, but because of the existing conditions in my area, all I had to do was restore some of the shrub layer (I actually converted half my yard, which is not always necessary). It took me two years, and I had birds half way through. For those starting from this kind of situation, appealing to birds over a short period can prove rewarding and somewhat easy.

Contrasting my favorable yard with someone starting with a yard that was a corn field 10 years ago. First, GOOD LUCK. Second, converting this yard into a birding spot will be a difficult. The difficulty does not just come from the site conditions (like soil types, chemical exposure, etc.), though they don’t help. They also arise from the distance from suitable habitat that these flighty friends need to be present. In other words, if you build it they will not likely come, at least not for some time anyway. So, planning a garden amongst endless lawns and former corn fields it may be best to plant transitional or pioneer species on these types of sites. These may not bring in a black and white warbler but it will help once common local species find purchase. Under these circumstances, be mindful that it is not only the birds that you’re planting for, but there food as well. In other words, the more caterpillars and healthy plants you have, the more likely you will have better populations of birds and butterflies.