In the garden: Attracting birds

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I love the birds that return to Madison County each winter, especially the ones that visit my backyard. My family and the birds share a mutually beneficial relationship; we feed the birds, and the beautiful birds bring us much joy.

This winter, gardeners can turn their backyards into a bird sanctuary and gain Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification through the National Wildlife Federation. The Federation says birds need three basic habitat components—food, water and cover—to thrive.

Food: Beyond providing a bird feeder, gardeners can plant native perennials, shrubs and trees to provide birds with essential foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts. In my yard, robins favor the crabapples; woodpeckers eat insects from tree trunks; and finches retrieve seeds from the remaining coneflower heads.

Water: Water is not only essential to the survival of birds, but its presence in a backyard habitat attracts a broader spectrum of birds than feeder visitors. Good water sources include natural features (ponds and creeks) or human-made features (bird baths, fountains and landscape ponds) with clean water. This winter, try adding a heater to de-ice your bird bath water.

Shelter: Birds seek cover in trees, shrubs and plants to hide from predators, escape bad weather, gain food and build nests. Ground-inhabiting birds like towhees, sparrows and juncos feel comfortable in the groundcover and small shrubbery nearest your house or patio. Buntings, finches and chickadees are attracted to larger shrubs and small trees slightly farther away from windows. Mature, larger trees with large canopies draw birds such as tanagers, grosbeaks, nuthatches and woodpeckers that find their food and cover at the perimeter of the yard.

To learn more about the National Wildlife Federation’s backyard wildlife certification program, visit www.nwf.org/bwh.

Teresa Woodard is a volunteer with the Madison County Master Gardeners. Questions and gardening news items are welcomed at 740-852-0809 or by e-mail at madison@columbusmessenger.com.

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