Visits from our feathered friends can be a delightful sight in the garden, especially in the dead of winter.  Putting out bird feeders or bird baths can allow us a quick glimpse into their busy lives but also helps them fuel up for a long migration or tough winter.  Regardless of how much love you hold for them, birds are also an essential part of a healthy garden ecosystem!

Birds provide numerous benefits for your garden.  If low maintenance is your dream, birds will be your best friends for pest control.  They eat a variety of aphids, mosquitoes and other bugs and will happily become your new natural pest control agent.  They can even help control weeds! Finches, towhees and sparrows gobble up weed seeds, eliminating the weed cycle before it even begins. Additionally, nectar loving birds will pollinate garden flowers, providing longer and better bloom seasons.  While birds provide these local benefits, cultivating bird-friendly landscapes can contribute to the larger picture by fostering environmental conservation.  Your backyard can be an osasis as green spaces are becoming more rare in urban areas. Using native plants to attract birds compounds positive benefits by using less water and having higher disease resistance, again leading to low maintenance!

So how do we attract these birds we now desperately need because they reduce weeds!? Luckily for your busy schedule, attracting birds is easy.  The first and best way of providing food is through native plants.  Natives provide seeds, nectar and berries at the right times of year and host native bugs that the birds love to munch on.  Snowberry, evergreen huckleberry, elderberry, red currant or oregon grape are all great choices.  Bird feeders act as a great secondary food source, but be sure to use high-quality food.  While certain seeds attract specific species, a seed mix is great for beginners to attract a variety of bird species.  Once you parse through the multitude of feeder styles and choose the perfect one, be sure it has a waterproof roof! Or get a weather dome.  This prevents damp seeds that can cause molds toxic to birds.  In addition, leaving leaf litter around the yard provides yummy insect snacks for ground foragers such as robins, towhees and thrashers.

Placement of your feeder is just as important as the type of food used.  Installing the feeder near a bush “staging area” from which birds can fly in, creates safety.  Be careful to leave at least a few feet between a potential cat hiding place and the bird feeder, to allow reaction time for the birds to fly away.