Brenda and Greg Hiltz own several acres in Nova Scotia that have been certified by CWF as wildlife-friendly. While they have owned this property since 1997, it is in the past six years that they have been seriously gardening and enhancing its appeal to both themselves and their wild neighbours. Brenda is completing her Master Gardener course and has shared an article from this program below.
My Planting is for the Birds and… By Brenda Hiltz
In 1998, when my husband and I retired to an older home and left some modern conveniences behind, a friend asked me if I missed the dishwasher. Not at all! We have a large window above our kitchen sink looking west and, while washing dishes by hand, I soon succumbed to the charm of many winged visitors passing by.
Initially, birds came to our garden because of existing trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses, and we were content with a few feeders and watering spots to lure birds to even more windows on all sides of the house. Time changed that, and we wanted our gardens to attract all manner of species that may choose to visit. We also wanted to create a habitat to entice birds every day of the year. We began to plan, researching the needs of the birds that frequent our area during all seasons. Like all successful recipes demand, we needed the right ingredients — food, shelter/cover, places to raise young and water.
A few things were important to us before we started. Mowing would be done at 3 ½ inches and the clippings left where they fall for the benefit of the lawn. We set up collection areas for rainwater, as our well would not be used for watering. Rain troughs along the roofs of several out buildings were set up to fill barrels and also a rectangular cement tank, which once was used to soak split hoops for barrels. (Five goldfish make their home in the tank for the summer months) Three wooden composters were built and placed where they would be out of sight but still get enough sun to provide heat for the process. All the wood shavings and sawdust started soft, safe walking paths through the woodland area, which pine needles would gradually cover. Currently, I take any clippings and leaves from neighbours who don't use pesticides and use them for mulch in all the gardens.
We surveyed our 4.5-acre property, chose and prepared a site for the vegetable garden, adding applications of storm-tossed seaweed and well-rotted manure. The biggest, sturdiest plants—the shade trees and evergreens—were already present. The spruce and pine among the deciduous maple and birch that edge our property to the north and west provide cover, nesting and food. The birds of prey, the merlin, red-tailed hawk and sharp-shinned hawk, also use these as viewing platforms. The old crab-apple tree, lilac, mock orange, hedge of rugosa roses and common flowering quince provide cover and food around the perennial gardens. For insect-eating and nectar-feeding birds, the honeysuckle vine and many of the perennial flowers attract beneficial insects, helping us avoid using pesticides. Seed eaters, like finches and sparrows, lingered because many perennial plants were left to go to seed and some areas were left wild with dead standing trees, fallen trees and limbs, as well as brush in the forested area.
As we reclaimed many of the native and heritage plants, we also began to develop areas of our garden and yard to attract more wildlife.
Much of our research suggested we consider the following points:
Create vistas and views and take care not to block views, while selecting plants most desirable to native songbirds.
Create varied heights of vegetation, choosing a mix of taller and shorter. Think in levels: trees 4.5–12 m, small trees and shrubs 1.5–4.5 m, flowers 60–150 cm, ground covers and grasses 5 -30 cm.
Diversify the leaf type (deciduous and evergreen) and food (fruit berries, nuts and seeds). Keep in mind that some birds that eat seeds as adults require insects to feed their young.
Get more than one of a plant and create a more pleasing effect by using odd numbers such as three, five, seven.
Create year-round plantings. Remember evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcovers for beauty, colour and shelter for birds in winter.
We used the following as our guide:
Fruit-, nut- or seed- bearing trees and shrubsthat attract blue jays, robins, nuthatches, chickadees, pine grosbeaks, common redpolls, pine siskins, rose breasted grosbeaks and more:
Hawthorn —Crataegus flabellate. Elder— Sambuscus canadensis. Black cherry— Prunus serotina. Witchazel— Hamamelis virginiana. Eastern hemlock —Tsuga canadensis. White pine— Pinus strobus. White ash —Fraxinus americana. Sugar maple —Acer saccharum. Mountain ash —Sorbusspecies Chokecherry —Prunus virginiana. Serviceberry —Amelanchierspp. Dogwood —Cornusspp. Paper birch —Betula papyrifera.(Birches are especially important for American goldfinches, common redpolls and pine siskins. These birds are light enough to hang on but not to break off the fine branches as they feed on the small seeds produced in catkins.)
Shrubs and conifers that attract insects and provide shelter and nesting areasfor birds such as Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, cardinals, brown creepers, swallows, red crossbills, mourning doves, cedar waxwings and nuthatches:
White pine —Pinus strobus. Red pine —Pinus resinosa. Black spruce —Picea mariana. Balsam fir —Abies balsamea.
Perennials and annuals that provide seeds and nectar sourcesfor hummingbirds, purple finches, pine siskins, sparrows and American goldfinches (the goldfinches nest in mid-summer as they feed their young mashed seed):
Purple coneflower —Echinacea purpurea. Joe pye weed —Eupatoriumspp. Perennial sunflowers —Helianthusspp. Common tansy —Tanacetum vulgare. Common milkweed— Asclepias syriaca.
Vines for cover, food and nesting sitesfor woodpeckers, hummingbirds and many more:
Virginia creeper —Parthenocissus quinquefolia. American bittersweet —Celastrus scandens. Goldflame honeysuckle —Lonicera x heckrotiI Goldflame.
Grasses and ground coversfor robins, chipping sparrows, fox sparrows, white-throated sparrows, crows, flickers and hummingbirds (white-throated sparrows build their nests on the ground, hidden among fallen leaves under the shelter of shrubs or dense ground cover. The winter flocks of these and fox sparrows forage on the ground in wooded properties and gardens with plenty of shrubs and other low cover).
Brush piles and fallen leaves for shelter, nesting, food sources (insects) and protectionfor woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows and ring necked pheasants.
Water for bathing and drinkingfor all birds.
Reuse non-aluminum frying pans, plant pots filled with rocks and their saucers on top, or even a simple bowl.
I awoke one morning around 5:00 a.m. to several choruses of songs chiming around me. For breakfast, I had the added pleasure of watching the spring courtship of robins and downy woodpeckers. A swallow busied himself checking out one of the nesting sites while the trees behind him gleamed with goldfinches and purple finches. On the ground, the fox sparrows and white-throated sparrows scratched feverishly for overwintering seeds.
We continue to mow less, build gardensand add trees and shrubs that hold their seeds and berries well into the winter and others that produce them in early spring, supplying food for overwintering birds and early returning migrants. The reward promises to be many hours of pleasure with our own select group of bug hunters.