Gardening for Birds

Florida yards often attract a wide range of native birds. How you landscape and maintain your yard can make a difference for bird conservation and the environment.

If you want to encourage birds to visit your garden, provide them with three essential elements: the right variety of quality food, fresh water for drinking and bathing, and safe cover, preferably provided by native plants.

Selecting Bird-Friendly Plants

With a little planning, your landscape can include some favorite foods for our feathered friends.

You can provide food for birds by planting species with berries, seeds, and fruits and filling your bird feeders with high quality seed. Many birds feed on the berries and fruits of native plants like holly, American beautyberry, and red mulberry, so try planting a few of these.

To keep hummingbirds happy, also include nectar-producing plants like firebush and shrimp plant. Read more in our article on Hummingbird Gardens.

Bird Feeders

Bird feeders are mutually beneficial—they provide food for the birds and the enjoyment of watching wildlife to you.

Your bird feeder can be designed to attract either a variety of species, or just one. Select a tube, nectar, fruit, or hopper feeder, depending on the type of birds you're interested in seeing. Offer seeds in traditional tube-style feeders to attract small birds, or use a hopper-style feeder for larger birds like blue jays and grosbeaks.

The type of food you choose will also determine which birds visit. To attract orioles, thrashers, and bluebirds, put out fruit. Cardinals, titmice, finches, and chickadees prefer sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

You can also add a suet feeder to help feed woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens.

Put your bird feeder in a spot where you'll have a good view of all the activity. Place it at least 10 to 15 feet away from trees to help keep squirrels at bay, and be sure to clean your feeder often to prevent the spread of diseases. Make sure your bird feeders protect the seed from rain and are easy to see from the air. Read more in the EDIS publication, "Attracting Backyard Birds: Birdfeeder Selection."

Birdbaths

Out of all the "creature comforts" you can offer the birds in your landscape, water is the most important.

Select a shallow basin that has a rough surface and gently sloping sides, so birds will have sure footing. You can choose either a ground-level or a pedestal-style basin. Ground-level basins mimic natural water sources but can leave birds at risk.

Placed in a shady spot, your birdbath provides our feathered friends with a place to rest, drink, and bathe. Place the basin away from shrubs, since predators can hide there. The best spot is near a tree, so that birds can make a quick getaway.

Place your birdbath near a garden hose so it's easy to fill. Every ten days or so, scrub the basin with a mild bleach solution. Dirty birdbaths can spread lethal diseases among birds.

The sound of moving water attracts birds, so consider giving birds extra incentive to visit by adding a small fountain.

Bird house photo by Deborah FransSafe Cover

With construction and land clearance, the supply of suitable habitat for birds in Florida is becoming scarce. You can make your landscape more bird-friendly by planting trees and dense shrubs that can provide nesting areas and shelter.

Building a birdhouse is a Florida-friendly effort that not only helps wildlife, it's a great activity for families as a way to introduce children to nature. Learn more in the EDIS publication, "Helping Cavity-nesters in Florida."

Snags

For some wildlife, wood only becomes valuable after death. Nearly 40 species of birds (and many mammels) in Florida nest in the cavities of standing dead trees, called snags. Leaving dead or dying trees where they stand is one way to help Florida wildlife.

Snags provide food as well as shelter. Woodpeckers and other small birds feed on the insects that live in snags, and birds of prey often use snags as hunting and nesting perches.

Snags are produced by fire, lightning, and other natural events. But you can also contribute a snag to the ecosystem. If you're planning to remove a tree from your property, instead of cutting it to the ground completely, consider leaving a ten- to fifteen-foot stump for wildlife to use.

Birdwatching

Florida is a birdwatcher's paradise. The mild climate, location and diverse habitat attracts more than 470 species. Some species, like limpkins, occur here year-round, while others come to Florida to raise their young in spring and summer. Other migratory species only pause to rest and feed before continuing on their journey.

If you garden to attract birds, or just enjoy birdwatching, why not combine your hobby with state conservation efforts? The Florida Bird Monitoring Program encourages people to monitor the birds in their area and enter the results at their Web site. By comparing data, people can discuss ideas, pose questions, and develop suggestions about how to improve their neighborhoods for birds.