Bringing Home The Birds

The pallet of the landscape is transforming from subtle browns and tans, exploding to splashes of hot pink, white, yellow, and purple. The sweet smelling crabapple blossoms, showering down papery petals in a gentle breeze, blanket the landscape. The rustling, hatter, and singing of the   wildlife have filled the once still air. Spring is here!

I peer out my bedroom window to watch the dance of the robins in the crabapple trees. Pecking a few of the faded fruits remaining from winter,
Mr. Robin urgently searches for a home to impress Mrs. Robin. This is a busy time for the migratory birds, just arriving back home after a long
flight. Some species of birds fly thousands of miles from Central America, Mexico, or South America to arrive at their final destination. In the
southeast, our American Robin, Turdus migratorius, is with us all year long. In a matter of days, the male robin scopes out his territory and then
the female arrives (choosing the male with the best nesting spot). They then build a nest, incubate eggs, and raise their young, or brood. In the case of the robin, they have two (sometimes three) broods before winter arrives

You might ask yourself, “What influences Mr. & Mrs. Robin to select their prime nesting spot?” They are looking for the same things that we do to survive: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Birds will often return to the same location year after year if all of these are present. So let’s discuss what you can do in your garden to bring home the birds.

Depending on the species of bird, their diets will vary greatly. In the case of my friend, the robin, his/her diet consists of a mixture of fruits, berries, earthworms, and insects such as beetle grubs, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. Another frequent visitor to my garden is the Carolina wren,
Thryothorus ludovicianus, which does not migrate. He’s also here all year round. The Carolina wren is a ground forager whose diet mainly consists of caterpillars, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, wasps, and flies (I’m sure you can already see the wonderful benefits of attracting birds to your garden!).

There are so many native plants you can place in your landscape that provide fruit, berries, and seeds that our native birds need (see Tables 1.1-1.4). From my own observations in my backyard, the crabapple trees, smooth sumac, yaupon holly, American beautyberry, chokeberry, elderberry, blackberry, and blueberry are very popular amongst the fruit and berry eating birds. And like it or not, poison ivy berries are a favorite. I make sure this vine stays far away from my walkways!

For the seedeaters, I see lots of activity on my swamp sunflower, black-eyed-Susans, purple coneflower, and goldenrod. For nectar loving birds such as hummers, cardinal flower, bee balm, salvia (pineapple, anise & autumn sage), crossvine, coral honeysuckle, and jewelweed are big attractors.

But in addition to our bird friendly plants, it’s always a pleasure to supplement feed our feathered friends at our feeders. I especially make sure the feeders are full during late winter and early spring since the natural food supplies are diminishing and the new migrants are arriving. There are so many feeders available, some bird specific, that it can be overwhelming. The website has wonderful information on the various feeders and more.

My favorites are the standard cylindrical tube on a pole complete with the squirrel baffle, thistle feeder, suet, and nectar feeder. The cylindrical feeder attracts an array of birds from titmouse to woodpeckers. The seeds that are tossed out by the fussy eaters are eaten by the ground foragers (such as morning doves). I usually mix my own seed consisting of black oil sunflower, hulled sunflower, safflower, and sometimes peanuts. I stay away from corn and millet; two foods that appear to attract more rats than birds! The thistle feeder is specific to gold finches. And of course, the nectar feeder is for our sweet little hummers. This is filled with 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and is refilled every few days.

Not only is food essential to your habitat but also water. A simple birdbath that is 12 inches wide and two to three inches deep works perfectly. Also, water drips and fountains are appealing to birds because of the rippling affect on the water surface. A water garden or pond is also inviting. Just be sure to have a very gentle slope (half inch to 4 inches) so that it is accessible to the birds. The placement of your water feature will also determine which birds it will attract. In open areas, bolder species such as robins, jays, and chickadees will visit. To attract the more timid species, such as warblers, place your water source near evergreen shrubs.

For stagnant water, such as birdbaths, be sure to change the water every few days. Not only to keep it clean for our visiting birds, but also to prevent mosquitoes. Mosquito dunks or bits (Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) are also helpful if added to the water. Bt is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, which is lethal to mosquito larvae but harmless to mammals and birds.

The next essential element, which encompasses your entire habitat, is shelter. To create a desirable shelter, we must concentrate on vegetation structure and layering. “Many migrants are attracted to thickets, dense masses of fruiting shrubs, vines, briers, and brambles. Native trees and shrubs are best, because they are genetically programmed to leaf out, bloom, and fruit at precisely the right time for the migrants with which they’ve co-evolved.” According to Janet Marinelli, Director of Publishing at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is also essential to have brush and  log piles, and a small open area or meadow. This is where being a good steward comes into play. Be as organic and pesticide free as possible. If your garden is diverse, consists of plants native to your area, and you practice good maintenance habits, this should come naturally. If you must reach for the bottle of pesticide, please read the label carefully!

For the final element, we must provide places for the birds to raise their young. By providing a good shelter, you’ve probably already created good nesting places. Good nesting places are evergreen trees and shrubs, snags, trees with cavities, brush piles, and artificial nesting sites (such as nesting boxes). I often have robins and wrens nesting in plants on my front porch. Another important aspect of a nesting site is safety. Birds want to feel secure from predators. One of the biggest predators in my habitat is the free-roaming domestic cat. So if you own a cat, please be mindful of this. A bell around the neck does not work when it comes to baby birds. Please, try to keep kitty inside, especially in spring.

This sounds like a lot of work but with time and patience, it can be accomplished. If you are successful, the rewards are endless. The ultimate gift in return is to discover a nest, with 5 bright blue eggs, see them hatch, watch the brood grow, and take their first flight!


All provide shelter to some degree but the evergreens* offer more winter protection

Common Name Botanical Name Resource
American beech Fagus grandiflora Nut, shelter(not evergreen but leaves drop late)
American holly Ilex opaca Shelter, fruit
Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis “Green Giant” Shelter
Blackgum Nyssa sylvatica Fruit
Eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana Fruit, shelter
Hickory Carya spp. Nuts & nut scraps
Magnolia, sweetbay*, southern*, cucumber tree, bigleaf, fraser Magnolia virginiana, M. grandiflora, M. acuminata, M. macrophylla, M. fraseri Seed, shelter
Oak; note the Sawtooth Oak is considered an exotic invasive Quercus spp.; note the white oaks produce acorns more frequently than red Nuts & nut scraps
Persimmon, common Diospyros virginiana Fruit
Pine* Pinus spp. Seed, Shelter
Sourwood Oxydendrum arboreum Seed
Sycamore Platanus occidentalis Seed
Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua Seed
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera Seed, nectar
Wild or black cherry Prunus serotina Fruit
Riverbirch Betula nigra Seed
Winged elm Ulmus alata Seed
Ash, white & green Fraxinus americana, F. pennsylvanica lanceolata Seed

All provide shelter to some degree but the evergreens* offer more winter protection

Common Name Botanical Name Resource
American beautyberry Calicarpa americana Fruit
American Hophornbeam Ostrya virgiana Fruit
Agarista* Agarista populifolia Shelter, nectar
Arborvitae* Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’ Shelter
Blackberry Rubus spp. Fruit
Blueberry Vaccinium spp. Fruit
Chokeberry, red Aronia arbutifolia Fruit
Clethra Clethra alnifolia Fruit, nectar
Devil’s walkingstick Aralia spinosa Fruit
Dogwood Cornus florida Fruit
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis Fruit
Florida anise* Illicium floridanum Nectar, shelter
Fothergilla Fothergilla gardeni, F. major Seeds
Fringe tree Chionanthus virginicus Fruit
Gray owl juniper* Juniperus virginiana Fruit, shelter
Hackberry Celtis occidentalis Fruit
Hawthorn Crataegus spp Fruit
Huckleberry, some* Gaylussacia spp Berry
Inkberry* Ilex glabra Fruit
Leucothoe* Leucothoe spp. Nectar, shelter
Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’, M. ashei Ashe Magnolia Seed
Mountain laurel* Kalmia latifolia Nectar, shelter
Native azalea Rhodendron viscosum, R. canescens, R. prunifolium, R. roseum, R. austrinum Nectar
Osage orange Maclura pomifera Fruit
Possumhaw Ilex decidua Fruit
Red Mulberry Morus rubra Fruit
Rhododendron* Rhododendron catawbiense, R. maxmium Nectar, shelter
Rose, swamp Rosa palustris Fruit
Sassafras Sassafras albidium Fruit
Serviceberry Amalanchier arborea Fruit
Southern crabapple Malus angustifolia Fruit
Spicebush Lindera benzoin Fruit
Strawberry bush Euonymus americanus Fruit
Sumac Rhus spp. Fruit
Viburnum, mapleleaf & Rusty black haw Viburnum acerifolium V. rufidulum Fruit
Wax myrtle* Morella cerifera Fruit, shelter
Wild plum Prunus americana Fruit
Winterberry Ilex verticillata Fruit
Yaupon holly* Ilex vomitoria Fruit, shelter

All provide shelter to some degree but the evergreens* offer more winter protection
P=perennial, A=annual, V=vine

Common Name Botanical Name Resource
Aster, Short’s Aster shortii P Nectar, seed
Shale aster Aster oblongifolius P Nectar, seed
Bee balm Monarda didyma M. fistulosa P Nectar
Black-eyed-Susan Rudbeckia spp. P & A Seed
Cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis P Nectar
Carolina jessamine* Gelsemium sempervirens V Nectar, shelter
Columbine, wild red Aquilegia canadensis P Nectar
Coral bells Heuchera americana P Nectar
Coral honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens V Nectar
Coreopsis, tickseed Coreopsis auriculata P & A Seed
threadleaf, pink tickweed C. verticillata, C. rosea P & A Seed
Crossvine* Bignonia capreolata V Nectar, shelter
Firepink Silene virginica P Nectar, seed
Geranium, wild Geranium maculatum P Seed
Goldenrod Salidago spp. P Seed
Grasses, native- some* Andropogon spp, Panicum spp, Juncus spp*,Caryx * P&A Seeds, shelter, nesting material
Greenbriar Smilax spp. P Nectar
Indian pink Spigelia marilandica P Nectar
Iris, copper Iris fulva P Nectar
Iris, dwarf Iris cristata P Nectar
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum P Fruit
Jewelweed Impatiens A Nectar
Joepyeweed Eupatorium fistulosum P Seed
Lantana Lantana spp P&A Fruit, nectar
Mosses, lichens * Various spp Nesting materials
Mountain mint Pycnanthemum tenuifolium P Seeds
Muscadine, wild grape Vitis rotundifolia V Fruit
Obedient plat Physostegia virginiana P Nectar
Partridge berry* Mitchella repens V Fruit
Phlox, Carolina Phlox carolinia P Nectar
Poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans V Fruit
Pokeweed Phytolacca americana P Fruit
Purple cone flower Echinacea spp. P Nectar
Salvias- anise sage, autumn sage, pineapple sage, Mexican bushsage, Texas sage, lyreleaf sage Salvia guaranitica, S. greggii, S. elegans, S. leucantha, S. coccinea P&A Nectar
Silphium, cup-plant Silphium perfoliatum P Seed & leaves hold basins of water
Solomon’s seal & false solomon’s seal Polygonatum biflorum, Smilacina racemosa P Fruit
Sundrops Oenothera tetragona P Nectar
Sunflower Helianthus spp. P&A Seed
Swamp hibiscus Hibiscus coccineus P Nectar
Trumpet creeper Campsis radicans V Nectar
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia V Fruit

Note-Some bird’s diets are more detailed than others due to research available

Common Name Scientific Name Diet
American gold finch Carduelis tristis Hulled sunflower, niger,suet. White ash, box elder, American elm, American hop hornbeam, red mulberry, most pine, sweet gum, osage orange, grape, sunflower, rose, silphium, and serviceberry.
American robin Turdus mirgatorius Insects, spiders, worms, most berries -chokeberry, wild grapes, crabapple
Blue jay Cyanocitta cristata Black oil, hulled sunflower, nuts. Other bird’s eggs, fruit, nutmeats, acorns, insects
Brown Thrasher   State bird Orpheus rufus Suet, black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, nutmeats, fruit. Red chokeberry, flowering dogwood, cedar, Southern magnolia, red mulberry, Southern wax myrtle, black gum, pines, black cherry, devil’s walking stick, serviceberry, holly, juniper, Virginia creeper, pokeberry, wild plum, and blueberry. Also, insects, worms, spiders, small amphibians, caterpillars.
Brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla Black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, striped sunflower seed, safflower seed, niger (thistle), suet, nutmeats, fruit, shelled peanuts. Mostly pine seed, but also maple, oak, beech, hickory, insects, spiders.
Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis Sunflower, niger, safflower, suet. Maple, sweet gum, pines, elm, sunflower, insects.
Carolina wren Thryothorus ludovicianus Insects, Bird Cakes, Mealworms, suet, niger. Sweet gum, pine, oak, and osage orange.
Dark eyed junco Junco hyemalis Seed mix, hulled sunflower. A wide variety of seeds. Also, insects, spiders,
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis Shelled peanuts, cracked nutmeats, suet, raisins, currants, hulled sunflower chips, and live mealworms. Red chokeberry, flowering dogwood, hackberry, common persimmon, red cedar, crabapple, red mulberry, Southern wax myrtle, black gum, black cherry, sassafras, huckleberry, devil’s walking stick, strawberry bush, holly, juniper, Virginia creeper, pokeweed, sumac, rose, blackberry, elderberry, grapes, blueberry, and viburnum. Also, insects, spiders, caterpillars.
Eastern screech owl Otus asio Voles, mice, large insects, crayfish, earthworms, and other vertebrates
Field sparrow Spizella pusilla Insects, spiders, grass seeds
House finch Carpodacus mexicanus Introduced in 1940. Hulled sunflower, safflower, grasses, and ‘weed’ seeds, berries
Mourning dove Zenaida macroura Seed Mix, Hulled Sunflower. Variety of seeds, waste grain, fruit, insects
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis Black Oil Sunflower, Safflower. Maple, ironwood, hackberry, fringetree, flowering dogwood, hawthorn, ash, huckleberry, sweet gum, Southern magnolia, red mulberry, hop hornbeam, pine, black cherry, aralia, sunflower, firebush, lantana, rose, and blackberry. Also, grass seed, waste grain, ‘weeds’. Also, insects, spiders, caterpillars.
Northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos Suet, peanut butter, nutmeats, fruit. Hackberry, mulberry, flowering dogwood, elderberry, sumac, and serviceberry. Also, spiders, insects.
Red bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus Suet, hulled sunflower, sugar water. Pine, oak, red mulberry, flowering dogwood, maple, crabapple, black gum, American beech, American elm, bayberry, elderberry, sunflower, holly, Virginia creeper, pokeweed, grape, and blueberry. Also, insects, other small mammals & reptiles & bird eggs.
Ruby Throated hummingbird Archilochus colubris Nectar, sugar. water flowering maple, scarlet sage, anise sage, pineapple sage, coral honeysuckle, trumpet vine, cardinal flower, lantana, cross vine, Mexican sage, bleeding heart vine, Carolina jessamine, hibiscus, azaleas. Also, small insects.
Song sparrow Melospiza melodia Most seeds, grains, grass, berries and on some occasions insects
Summer tanager Piranga rubra Fruit, suet, sugar water. Black gum, flowering dogwood, red mulberry, blackberry, black cherry, elderberry, muscadine grape, and pokeweed. Also, many flying insects, especially bees & wasps.
Scarlet tanager Piranga olivacea Fruit, suet, sugar water. Same as Scarlet Tanager plus black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, pecan meats, peanut hearts, and sugarwater. Red mulberry, black cherry, serviceberry, blackberry, sparkleberry, and grape. Also, many flying insects, especially bees & wasps.
Tufted titmouse Baeolophus bicolor Black oil sunflower, suet. American beech, crabapple, red mulberry, black gum, hackberry, oaks, blackberry, elderberry, serviceberry, Virginia creeper, and grape. A variety of insects and other invertebrates.
White breasted nuthatch Sitta carolinensis Black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, striped sunflower seed, safflower seed, niger (thistle), suet, nutmeats, fruit, shelled peanuts. Mostly pine seed, but also maple, oak, beech, hickory, insects, spiders.
Yellow-rumped warbler Dendroica coronata A variety of insects and berries. An opportunistic feeder.

The following websites were a great resource of information: -American Bird Conservancy – Your Florida Backyard – Wild Ones-Native Plants, Natural Landscapes – – National Audubon Society – Wildlife Habitat Design