Song Birds in the Urban Forest? Trees Make It Possible
Did you know birding is one of most popular pastimes in North America? Many homeowners invest large amounts of time and money in birdfeeders and birdseed in hopes of attracting birds with their bright plumage and happy songs. In fact, an estimated 60 million people spend close to a billion dollars annually on seed and associated products. Countless others travel to far off places in search of winged friends.
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. Bird song will fill the air as your specially chosen trees provide nesting sites, food and cover for native warblers.
Why is creating a backyard bird haven beneficial to urban dwellers? In addition to the pleasures of majestic trees and trilling notes, laboratory research out of Texas A&M University shows that returning to more natural, less artificial settings produces significant recovery from stress. With a large part of the state dedicated to cities and towns (Ohio has over 940 municipalities) and 80% of Ohioans living in urban settings, maintaining a balance with nature is an easy, economical way to maintain emotional well-being.
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 rural 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 form 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.
Top Tier 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 – 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-Headed Nuthatches find these evergreens agreeable nesting sites. In addition, sap, needles, twigs, buds, and seeds also double as food.
Mid Tier 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.
Lower Tier Shrubby dogwoods 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.
Ground Level Some birds, like the American Robin and Bluebird require open habitats in suburban landscapes. Selective clearings between trees will help encourage these bird species to visit.
Don’t forget tree arrangement 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. The variety and numbers that visit your yard regularly will depend on what trees you plant. Take your cue from the list provided here, study local forests, or consult your local urban forester, nursery, or county Extension office for advice.
Using Mother Nature’s bird feeders – trees – will leave you with more time to spend watching birds (instead of filling up feeders) and save you money on birdseed.