When I fantasize about the lavish garden I hope to have some day, I picture different scenarios, but there are a few things that remain constant. There’s always a fence around the backyard (to keep my dogs in and the deer out), there’s always busy little bees and butterflies, and I also picture birds. While I envision happy little birds singing their early morning tunes and flying from tree to tree, I’m aware that birds aren’t always good for a garden. That’s why we use scarecrows right? To scare crows away. So for the sake of my garden, I need to know: which birds are good, which ones are bad, and how do I attract the good ones and deter the bad ones?
Some birds are good for a garden because they eat pests, which can reduce or eliminate the need to spray chemicals. Some examples of “good” birds are: bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, goldfinches (they like to eat seeds, which helps reduce the number of weeds but also requires protecting freshly planted seeds), and even woodpeckers (if you can keep their attention away from your house). Other birds are also pollinators, including: hummingbirds, orioles, robins, finches, and buntings. If you have a problem with small rodents in your garden, you could try to attract hawks and owls, but they would also be a threat to these other birds.
While eating the insects that threaten your garden is immensely helpful, it’s not helpful when the birds are eating the actual garden. Crows, crowned sparrows, finches, and robins can sometimes do more harm than good by disrupting planted seeds, damaging small sprouts, and pecking holes into the produce itself. Notice there is some overlap between the birds on the “good” and the “bad” list. Basically, if there are enough bugs to eat, birds will go for them first, but if there’s not, then your garden could be at risk. If there are too many birds attracted to your garden you may need to introduce bugs (that are not harmful to your garden) to keep them satiated.
There are several ways to attract certain types of birds to your property. Obviously you’ll want to do your research and make sure you’re not trying to attract a bird that isn’t native to your location. You need to provide three basic necessities for birds to want to move in. Food, water, and housing. A bird bath can be a suitable place to drink and bath for a variety of birds. Different types of birds will like different foods and different houses.
Lets take a hummingbird for example. Hummingbirds eat nectar and you can purchase specialized feeders that are bright red to attract their attention. These are especially helpful during their spring and fall migration. You could also go out of your way to plant flowers that they like, such as: bee balms, columbines, daylilies, and petunias. A simple bird bath would meet their need for water, but they’re especially fond of a gentle mist. Lastly, they need a safe place to build a nest. Shrubbery or small trees can provide flat surfaces for them to build and enough coverage for them to feel protected. Perches are also helpful for them to have a place to rest and survey the landscape. Some can be more out in the open while others are more hidden from view for a variety of birds.
There are a few options to ward off birds you don’t want around. You can protect your garden from them with netting or other covers that denies them basic access. Devices with reflective surfaces can scare them away, especially if they move around in the breeze. Crows seem more deterred by effigies of dead crows than of it’s predators, like an owl. You can also set up a motion sensor device that sprays water, etc. that can scare them away. If you have a serious problem with these birds the most effective approach is a combination of these things.
Keep in mind, if you’re going to go out of your way to attract birds to your garden, you should be conscientious about what things you’re exposing them to. Don’t spray things that will poison them. Don’t add things to their food that’s bad for them, like red food coloring to the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder or other foods their bodies aren’t designed to digest. Approach things right and you’ll have a mutually beneficial relationship with a variety of birds that will enhance the quality of your garden and the beauty of it.