I simply adore the birds that visit my garden. Here one moment and gone the next, their fleeting presence and sweet, sweet songs never fail to cause my heart to skip a beat.
And the entertainment they’ve provided over the years has been priceless, adding so much joy to our lives.
Recently, someone was seeing my garden for the first time and wanted to know why I had so many birds when they had so few – what was my secret?
There’s no secret, of course, but while I showed her around my garden I noticed just how many ways I make it enticing for them to visit (besides, of course, providing plenty of plants for shelter and food.)
So today, I thought I would share some of them with you. If you incorporate even a few of these elements, you’ll be amazed at who shows up to visit your garden!
While it seems many birds in my garden prefer to make their nests in the most unusual places (click here for my favorite hiding spot of all!) it still doesn’t stop me from collecting birdhouses.
Whether rustic, elegant, or homemade, they all help put out the welcome mat for my beloved feathered friends.
Hands-down, my two favorite birdhouses are gifts from my good friend Freeland Tanner, who painstakingly made them by hand.
The oversized blue birdhouse sits in the far corner of my garden, its stately presence visible from inside my home (never failing to warm my heart.)
The smaller red one is tucked into a shady area where its color echoes the shades in my nearby office.
In fact, as I write this, there are two very busy house wrens furtively making a nest inside.
Birdhouses don’t have to cost a fortune, either, with many of mine found at flea markets and garage sales. Tucked here and there I often forget they’re there until a little bird flies out and startles me as I walk by.
Provide the water, and they will come!
I have larger basins for bigger birds (or flocks of waxwings!) and shallow bowls for smaller ones.
I also place a few larger rocks in the bottom of the baths, partially sticking out of the water, so the birds have something to stand on. They seem to appreciate this as they’re often fighting to get a turn standing on the rock.
I’m always amazed at how many types of birds use the birdbaths, not seeming to mind having to share their space with others.
In addition to plants, I always provide a bird feeder for additional sources of food – especially in the winter months when food is scarce.
Which seed you provide will determine which birds will be attracted to it. I use a feeder with a basic birdseed mix to attract the more common birds (such as sparrows, doves, and chickadees) and one filled with nyjer seed to attract the beautiful goldfinches.
Remember, though, once you begin feeding them they will start to rely on you as a food source. If you want them to migrate to warmer climates in the fall, you’ll need to stop filling your bird feeders in September. Otherwise, if you want them year-round you’ll need to commit to feeding them through the winter months. Please don’t up and quit on them mid-winter after their chance of flying to warmer climates has passed!
Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve loved the giant birch tree that was a beacon for the birds. Its branches were perfectly positioned to hold my bird feeders, and the tree was strategically placed directly in front of my bedroom window so I could watch the birds first thing in the morning. And even in the winter, the little goldfinches loved to hang on the dried seed heads and snack to their heart’s content.
This past year, however, my poor old tree died (as did so many in my area, thanks to year after year of drought) and we had to remove it.
I was so sad to lose this tree, not only because it was so stunning but because it was such a favorite with the birds.
My husband and I went to the Los Gatos Birdwatcher to see what options (if any) there were to try and fix the situation. While they had a system that would support a few bird feeders, it just wasn’t tall enough. But we did buy three swinging arms from them, to attach to a tall, sturdy steel pole that we securely placed in a hole drilled in the tree trunk.
Voila! The birds don’t even seem to notice the missing tree and appreciate the newly added suet feeder!
I’d have to say one of the most popular bird feeders in my garden is my canary and finch aviary.
Their seed and snacks drop through to the bottom and is a virtual buffet for the wild birds who sneak underneath.
Last year there was so much activity in my garden, a local hawk stayed for a few days to see what was going on.
His favorite place to perch was on the trunk of my old grape vine, next to my aviary.
While his presence certainly stopped all birds from visiting my garden, it was still such a treat to see him up close for a few days before he flew away.
Shelter, water and plenty of food – what more could a bird ask for?
Now, on to a fantastic offer from the people with the Sunset Western Plant Collection.
If you live anywhere on the West Coast (from Colorado to Hawaii), you won’t want to miss this generous plant giveaway!
But hurry – it ends this Sunday, March 12th. Just click here to follow the instructions and best of luck to all of you!
Hi Rebecca – I know most of the birds of our area but what is the name of the cute little finch(?) in the first picture? thanks, Nan
Hi Nan, I’ve only seen this bird once in my garden (this one was sitting on the ground and let me hold it for a moment before flying off into the wild blue yonder…) and is a Wilson’s Warbler. One of my favorite bird experiences ever!
Hi Rebecca. I love to feed the birds as well, but I’m worried about the seed falling in my flower beds. Do you do something to protect the dirt under your feeders, or do you just let stuff fall and then clean up underneath them all year?
You’re so right in the mess that those feeders make! Mine are perfectly placed so a large portion of the seed falls on a simple stone pathway that’s somewhat easy to sweep. Since it’s a little used pathway, I only sweep it once a month, or so. I buy the hull-less type of seed which really cuts down on the mess, even though it’s more expensive. As you’ve probably noticed, some birds are SO picky and pull out lots of seed until they get the tid-bits they’re looking for, making a mess below. But the doves and other birds swoop right in to clean up the easy meal those messy birds leave behind. Also, the Nyger seed doesn’t seem to germinate when it makes its way into my garden beds (thank heavens) so weeding isn’t an issue. The mess does eventually accumulate in my beds, though, which I manually scoop out about once a month. It just takes a few minutes so it doesn’t really bother me.
I enjoyed your story on the birds in your garden and the wonderful photos! I also love birds and have created sanctuary for them as you have, although my garden is small. The hawk you had was either a Sharp-shinned Hawk, or a Cooper’s Hawk, which are attracted to bird feeders for their food – birds!
I’m lucky to have Cedar Waxwings also, but, one request for all who love and feed birds – please don’t feed peanuts to crows! A neighbor is doing this, which attracts more and more crows, and they in turn eat food for other birds (like the tiny pear fruit on our ornamental pear tree, that the Waxwings and Robins normally eat). The crows also attack the nests of birds they can get to, consuming eggs and young birds.
Your birdhouse collection is wonderful!!
Hi Ronnie, thanks for the Hawk ID. Yes, he would sit there eyeing his next snack (my canaries) if only he could figure out how to open their door! We have such a problem with crows in the Bay Area, with some neighborhoods never getting a moment’s peace because of their incessant noise. I’m surprised people would feed and encourage them to hang out (and ultimately roost) in their garden. They’re so smart and beautiful (to me, at least) but certainly not a bird I would want dominating the garden. Thanks for your advice and for your compliments. 🙂
Hi Rebecca — I’ve become obsessed with wild birds over the past few months. I can’t believe I’d lived here a quarter of a century and hardly noticed them! My parents were birders and I learned a lot from them, but I wasn’t into it until recently. I’m thrilled the way the birds respond to the feeders now on my deck. I even had a flock of waxwings visit a berry-filled branch of pyracantha that I cut and put in a tall vase. But mostly I have sweet little goldfinches, house finches, scrub jays, juncos, mourning doves, and hummingbirds.
I’ve noticed your amazing bird photos on Instagram, Debra, and have enjoyed seeing you fall in love with them (loved the photo of the bra-feeder!) The birds you listed are the ones that are regulars here, too. This year I even had a pair of quail that visited my garden (preferring to hang out under the aviary), a varied thrush (I had to look it up to ID it – gorgeous) and orioles. You and I will have to start comparing notes!! xoxo
Oh my gosh you have waxwings!!! I am so jealous. Do you know what kind of house they like? I loved seeing all of these pictures. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Jo – the waxwings visit whenever the pyracantha berries are ready to devour, then *poof* they’re off again (apparently flying down south to visit Debra Lee Baldwin’s garden from her comment above!!) They’ve never nested here, as far as I know, so I’m not sure about what requirements they need.
Hi Rebecca, Could you please tell me the name of the large green bush in the corner next to your last #that says But hurry…….
It has tall pink flowers and deep green leaves…..and I loved the messages about your birds…thanks. Sylvia Benzler
Hi Sylvia – that’s one of Sunset’s new plants called salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’ and would look fantastic in your garden! The flowers are more coral than they are pink, but holy cow – it’s a magnificent plant with a zillion flowers all season long. Keep an eye out for it in the next issue of Sunset, where they’ll be writing a story about the garden I designed for them in Albany (the photo you’re seeing is from that garden) Pretty exciting! 🙂
Wonderful article and I enjoyed seeing your garden and beautiful accessories!
Great contest opportunity. I hope next time there will be one for those of us unwilling to use Facebook
Thanks Ann, next time I talk with the folks at Sunset I’ll pass along your comment. I think they’re trying to gain more of a social media presence for their new-ish plant line which is why it’s tied into Facebook.