by Charlene Burgi
As the sun peeked over the hills this morning to cast its golden rays on the frost-covered ground, the momentary illusion of reverential quiet was shattered by the chatter of multitudes of various birds flitting about the garden.
I am always delighted to awaken to the dozens of red and gold finches clinging to their nyjer seed socks. Below the socks, warblers are found sipping from the pond. The robins seem to brave the cold as they splash about in their morning shower. The birdfeeders placed in the trees away from the house sway under the weight of Steller’s and gray-breasted jays. The covey of quail that live in a well-placed brush pile nearby always benefit from the actions of the reckless jays above as they peck at the fallen seeds. The house windows sport attached birdfeeders that attract smaller birds such as pine siskin, nuthatch, bushtits, black-capped chickadees and titmouse. The installation of window feeders reduced the hazard of birds inadvertently thinking they could fly through the windows.
A garden without birds would be a terrible loss. Not only are they beautiful to watch, but they provide diverse benefits to the health of our gardens. Many birds, such as swallows, devour insects that are harmful to the garden. Nectar-seeking birds, like hummingbirds, are actually helping the bees pollinate for better fruit production. Our efforts to attract birds can have multiple benefits, too. For example, planting native shrubs and perennials not only provides tasty treats that are healthy for our feathered friends, but it also helps reduce our need for irrigation water.
Birds are also great at easing garden chores. For example, weed seeds are graciously consumed by towhees and sparrows, which equates to reduced germination and less weeding for us. I love to see the mass migration of bluebirds that comes through every winter and manages to clear the juniper trees of berries, thus reducing the mess that would otherwise fall to the ground. Of course, birds show little regard when it comes to their fruit selection. Peaches, apples, plums as well as raspberries and blueberries are also fair game. If I don’t want to share the fruit with the birds, nets must be thrown over the crowns of the trees and bushes, adding to my to-do list. Still, it is a worthwhile tradeoff.
With attracting birds comes a responsibility. Various seed assortments are used to attract multiple species of birds, but it is important that they contain a balance of nutritious seeds and not empty fillers. Suet is used in abundance during the winter months when the birds require a high calorie intake to survive. Keep the feeders full as well as clean. Seed blocks work wonders for long-term feeding if you are going away for extended periods of time. Cleanliness is important, as dirty feeders can spread diseases. Danger lurks in other places, too. Pesticides, insecticides and herbicides in the garden could be deadly. Here in Lassen, hawks and eagles are commonly seen soaring through the skies. Thus a first consideration for me is feeding in areas that protect the smaller species of birds and hoping the birds of prey will find the prairie dogs, field mice and rabbits a better choice for their dining pleasure.
You could say that my garden is for the birds. And that is a good thing in my book!