Landscaping for Wildlife: Food
As wild areas are lost to development, wildlife depends more and more on homeowners providing food for them. If you want to attract all kinds of wildlife to your yard, from birds and butterflies to squirrels, rabbits, amphibians, and even deer, the number one thing you should do is provide food. Feed them, and they will come!
This article will focus on providing food for birds and butterflies, since those are the two main types of wildlife that homeowners want to see in their yards. Animals like squirrels, bunnies, and deer will show up inevitably. There are ways to deal with these animals, and I will cover those in later articles. But for now, we're focusing on birds and butterflies.
Planting Food for Wildlife
When possible, try to choose native plants for your landscape for wildlife. Natives are best because the wildlife in our area have grown and evolved with the plants that are from here, and so naturally will be attracted to those first. However, lots of non-natives are great for wildlife, so I've included both natives and non-natives in the table below. The table is arranged by plant type. It is fun to look through the list and see which plants you already have, and what they attract. That will give you a start on developing a landscape that will attract the birds and butterflies you are most interested in. Let's say you have a Birch tree already, and you see in the table that it attracts cardinals, which are your favorite birds. So, you have a start. Now, go through the table and see which other plants provide food for cardinals. You will see that Alders, Ashes, Eastern Red Cedars, Hemlocks, Maples, Mulberries, Spruces, Sunflowers, and Viburnums all also provide food for your beloved cardinals, and several other birds as well. Now you have a list to take with you to the nursery!
|Plant||Plant Type||Animals It Feeds|
|Apple||Deciduous Fruit Tree||Blue Jays, Finches, Woodpeckers|
|Barberry||Deciduous Shrub||Catbirds, Woodpeckers|
|Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)||Evergreen Shrub||Catbirds, Chickadees, Finches, Woodpeckers|
|Bee Balm (red)||Perennial||Hummingbirds|
|Birch||Deciduous Tree||Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Juncos, Sparrows, Titmice|
|Butterfly Bush||Perennial||Hummingbirds, Cabbage White butterflies, Monarch butterflies|
|Corn||Vegetable||Blue Jays, Woodpeckers|
|Cosmos (Sensation Series)||Annual||Finches, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Monarch butterflies|
|Currant||Deciduous Shrub||Catbirds, Woodpeckers|
|Dill||Herb||Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars|
|Douglas Fir||Evergreen Tree||Blue Jays, Nuthatches|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Evergreen Tree||Cardinals, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Robins, Sparrows|
|Gray Dogwood||Deciduous Shrub||Finches, Robins, Sparrows|
|Hawthorn||Deciduous Tree||Cedar Waxwings, Robins|
|Hemlock||Evergreen Tree||Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Nuthatches, Titmice|
|Maple||Deciduous Tree||Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers|
|Milkweed||Perennial||Hummingbirds, Black Swallowtail butterflies, Monarch butterfly caterpillars, Monarch butterflies|
|Mulberry||Deciduous Tree||Blue Jays, Cardinals, Finches, Robins, Titmice|
|Nasturtium||Annual||Hummingbirds, Cabbage White butterfly caterpillars|
|Oak||Deciduous Tree||Blue Jays, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Nuthatches, Titmice, Woodpeckers|
|Parsley||Herb||Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars|
|Pine||Evergreen Tree||Blue Jays, Chickadees, Finches, Nuthatches|
|Purple Coneflower||Perennial||Finches, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Black Swallowtail butterflies, Monarch butterflies|
|Queen Anne's Lace||Annual (Often considered a weed)||Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars|
|Redbud (Cercis canadensis)||Deciduous Tree||Chickadees, Titmice, Woodpeckers|
|Red Twig Dogwood||Deciduous Shrub||Chickadees, Robins|
|Scarlet Runner Bean Vine||Annual Vine||Hummingbirds|
|Serviceberry||Deciduous Shrub||Cedar Waxwings, Robins|
|Spruce||Evergreen Tree||Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Sparrows, Titmice|
|Sunflower||Annual||Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Juncos, Nuthatches, Sparrows, Woodpeckers|
|Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower)||Annual||Cabbage White butterflies, Monarch butterflies|
|Viburnum||Deciduous Shrub||Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, Chickadees, Robins|
|Virginia Creeper||Deciduous Vine||Robins, Woodpeckers|
|Zinnia||Annual||Finches, Hummingbirds, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Black Swallowtail butterflies, Monarch butterflies|
Of course, providing supplemental food for your birds is also a lot of fun. Again, the foods you use, as well as the types of feeders, will determine which birds you will attract. The table below sorted by bird species.
One of the things you will notice is that there are many, many different types of feeders available, and they are by no means general purpose. If you don't have any particular birds in mind, and you just want whatever bird will come, you can always set up a hopper or tube feeder with a general wild bird mix in it. Birds will come! You will probably get lots of sparrows and finches, along with the occasional cardinal. Pigeons and mourning doves will hang out under the feeder and eat what the other birds drop. If your bird-attracting goals are more focused, however, you will want to learn about the different kinds of feeders.
Platform Feeder: This is what it sounds like-a flat platform that you set food on. Sometimes they come with a roof, sometimes not. Often the easiest thing to do is make one yourself by building a box and stapling window screening to the bottom of it. Doing that will allow rainwater to go through, but keep the food in the feeder. Or, a large plant saucer can serve as a platform feeder. The key is wide, shallow, and sturdy.
Hopper Feeder: These are the feeders that usually look like little houses, or sometimes they are shaped like gazebos. They are usually made of wood or plastic. You open the top, pour the seed in, and birds can feed from the perches or ledges around the hopper.
Tube Feeder: These are the long, usually plastic tubes with a series of holes for the birds to eat from. They have a perch beneath each hole for the birds to sit on while they eat. If you are intent on attracting American Goldfinches, there are special tube feeders for gold finches that only they are able to eat from. They are worth checking out, as goldfinches are easily bullied from typical tube feeders.
Globe Feeder: These are round feeders that have holes toward the bottom of the feeder, and no perches near the holes. These are specialty feeders for birds that cling upside down to eat.
Suet Feeder: These are wire cages that you can put suet cakes into. You can hang then from a tree or fence. Sometimes hopper feeders are available with suet feeders built onto the sides of them.
Nectar Feeders: These are the feeders we use to attract hummingbirds. They are usually plastic, but sometimes glass, and often have some red adornment on them to capture the attention of hummers.
|Bird||Type of Feeder||Favorite Foods|
|Blue Jays||Hopper Feeder, Suet Feeder||Peanuts, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, suet|
|Cardinals||Hopper Feeder, Platform Feeder||Sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, fruit|
|Catbirds||Platform Feeder, Suet Feeder||Chopped fruit, peanuts, raisins, sunflower hearts, suet|
|Cedar Waxwing||Platform Feeder||Berries, chopped fruit, raisins|
|Chickadees||Globe Feeder, Tube Feeder, Suet Feeder||Peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet|
|Finches||Globe Feeder, Tube Feeder, Suet Feeder||Thistle, sunflower seeds, millet, peanut kernels, suet|
|Hummingbirds||Nectar Feeder||Nectar Solution: Bring 4 parts water and 1 part sugar together to a boil. Let cool, then fill feeders. Replace nectar every 2 - 3 days. Refrigerate extra for up to one week.|
|Juncos||Hopper Feeder||Millet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts|
|Mourning Doves||Platform Feeder||Millet, cracked corn, milo, thistle, sunflower seeds|
|Nuthatches||Globe Feeder, Suet Feeder||Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet|
|Robins||Platform Feeder, Suet Feeder||Suet, berries, chopped fruit, raisins, nuts, sunflower hearts|
|Sparrows||Platform Feeder, Hopper Feeder, Tube Feeder||Millet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn|
|Titmice||Globe Feeder, Tube Feeder, Suet Feeder||Peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet|
|Woodpeckers||Globe Feeders, Suet Feeders||Suet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts|
Placing Your Feeders
There are two considerations when placing your feeders. First, where is the safest place for the birds? Placing a low platform feeder near a hedge might be attractive, but cats could easily sneak up on the birds feeding there. A good idea is to place feeders either in an open space so the birds can see all around them, or to place them close to a tree so they can fly for cover if a predator attacks. The second consideration is choosing a spot that you can see easily. All the fun of having a feeder is watching the birds that visit it. So be sure that your feeder is in view from your windows, or your deck or patio.
Caring for your Feeders
The most important thing is to keep your feeders clean, so that all of the birds you've worked so hard to attract wont' get sick. Feeders should be cleaned once a week in the summer (when food can go rancid more quickly) and every two weeks or so in winter. Cleaning feeders is easy.
- Throw all old food and hulls into the garbage.
- Scrape out any stubborn seed or hulls with an old screwdriver or spoon.
- Use a damp sponge to wipe out any residue.
- For perches, ledges, and any holes the birds might eat from, use a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water, and clean and rinse thoroughly.
- Let the feeder air dry thoroughly before putting fresh seed in.
One final thing about supplemental feeding. Some cities have absolutely ridiculous laws about feeding animals. In some areas, having a bird or squirrel feeder will get you a fine. If you live in one of these communities, first of all, I'd consider starting a movement to get the laws changed, but if you can't do that then you'll have to be satisfied with feeding birds with your plantings. Pay particular attention to the plants in the table above, and plant those that have the largest list of birds attracted to it. They can fine you for a feeder, but in most cases they can't do a thing about the pine tree you decide to plant!
So, there it is: all you need to know to get started attracting birds and butterflies to your yard. Have fun, and keep your eye out for the next part of the series, about providing water in your Landscape for Wildlife. ITGO