Landscaping for Birds

Attract feathered friends with thoughtful plantings.

| March/April 2008


Eastern bluebirds are easy to attract with nest boxes installed on meadow edges.

Most folks love to watch birds, and some mark the seasons with their songs, but did you know bird numbers have been declining for decades? Sure, you put out a few feeders and a birdbath for water, but what our feathered friends really need is sustaining habitat. And that’s where you and I can really make a difference.


The National Audubon Society reports the average population of common birds in North America has fallen by 68 percent since 1967; some individual species numbers are down by as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list – species like the evening grosbeak and eastern meadowlark – lost at least half their populations in the last four decades. Unless we take action to protect them and their habitat, these common birds have the potential to become uncommon.


Bird lovers can make a difference in several ways, but creating habitat at your place will have a major impact. With a little forethought and effort, you can create gardens and more permanent landscaping that look beautiful and provide food, shelter and nesting opportunities, and hopefully put the brakes on further bird losses in your area.


Gardens for the birds


Before designing your natural landscape, think of birds as guests and consider how to make them feel welcome. Duluth, Minnesota, City Gardener Tom Kasper suggests you evaluate the area where you want to create a bird garden.


“Start by drawing a map of your property that includes your home and other large structures,” Tom says. “Include existing trees and shrubs that will remain as part of the garden. Then begin outlining beds. These should flow with the curves of the land and provide a natural setting. Lastly, consider where you can place fallen and trimmed branches to create a brush pile. That is a perfect place for birds to hunt for insects, hide from predators and find protection from harsh weather.”


“An austere yard with a large lawn and a few non-native plants is popular in America today,” says Daniel Dix, landscape designer and owner of WoodSpirit Gardens in Backus, Minnesota. “But such yards are to birds like a desert is to us and are very inhospitable. Dense, low-growing shrubs and trees are important for nesting. I like northern white cedar, spruce, jack pine, dogwoods and willows, and native wildflowers attract insects that birds need for food.”

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