Did you know birding is one of the most popular pastimes in North America? Many homeowners invest time and money in birdfeeders and birdseed in hopes of attracting birds with their bright plumage and happy songs. In fact, a survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates more than 45 million people watch birds around their homes and travel to far off places in search of winged friends. Bird watchers spend nearly $41 billion annually on trips and equipment, but if trekking to the tropics is not an option and you don’t have lots of money to spend on seed, don’t despair! You can invite a wide variety of birds to your own backyard simply by investing in — and planting — suitable trees.
Why is creating a backyard bird haven beneficial to the average homeowner? In addition to the pleasures of majestic trees and trilling notes, research has shown that returning to more natural, less artificial settings produces significant recovery from stress. Ohio is the seventh most populous state, with 940 municipalities and 1.5 million residents, with more than half of them living in 10 of our 88 counties. Creating a balance with nature is an easy, economical way to maintain emotional well-being, even if you live on a small lot.
If preserving your own sanity isn’t motivation enough, creating local ecosystems of trees and plants that attract songbirds serves a larger purpose: helping to protect bird species. As development continues to spread, many species of songbirds are declining or at risk because of habitat loss.
Like people, birds need food, water, and shelter to survive. Planting trees of different types, sizes, and forms helps encourage diversity. Think of your yard in tiers and try to include a mix of large “canopy” trees and smaller mid-story trees, as well as shrubs and vines.
Baltimore Orioles, Red-Eyed Vireos, and Scarlet Tanagers nest in tall-growing hardwood species like oak, hickory, maple, sycamore, and elm. These trees also provide acorns, nuts, and fruits for feathery denizens and these homegrown “energy bars” help birds build up fat reserves for winter.
Pines, spruces, junipers, hemlocks, and cedars provide year-round cover from predators and weather because they retain most of their needles. Brown Creepers breed primarily in mature evergreen or mixed evergreen-deciduous forests. The sap, needles, twigs, buds, and seeds also double as food for many bird species.
Wood Thrushes gravitate to mulberry, redbud, plum, serviceberry, dogwood, crabapple, and apple trees during fall migration. They refuel on the fruits and berries from these trees on their way south. These trees also offer great places for nesting as well as escape cover.
Don’t forget the value of shrubs. Shrubby dogwoods, evergreen shrubs, and viburnums are attractive to many bird species while Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds love to nest and forage among trumpet vine thickets. Cardinals and Gray Catbirds nest in holly bushes and eat the fruit.
Some birds, like the American Robin and Eastern Bluebird require open habitats in suburban landscapes. Selective clearings between trees will help encourage these bird species to visit.
Remember that tree arrangement is important when planting. Be sure to position food sources near cover. For example, conifers should be planted on the northwest side of your property to give shelter from prevailing winds. Plant different trees, like crabapples, inside the windbreak. Last but not least, don’t feel like you have to have a huge spread with dozens of trees to reel in songbirds. You can plant just a few and get delightful results.
Viewing songbirds on your property is not only educational…it’s fun. Who knows — you may be rewarded with an up close and personal visit of the unusual Calliope Hummingbird that was recently sighted in Delaware County! The variety and numbers of songbirds that visit your yard regularly will depend on what trees and shrubs you plant. For great information about Ohio trees, urban forestry, woodland management and more, visit forestry.ohiodnr.gov. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website “All About Birds” is full of gorgeous photographs, life history information, songs and sounds, and is useful for beginners as well as experts. Check out www.allaboutbirds.org.
Using Mother Nature’s bird feeders — trees — will leave you with more time to spend watching birds while reducing the stress many of us feel when we are cooped up inside during inclement weather! For additional ways to chase away the winter blues, check out our website at www.delawareswcd.org for a variety of educational events. And in the meantime, happy birding.
Bonnie Dailey is the deputy administrator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.