Gardening For the Birds

Some of the best allies organic herb gardeners have against insect pests are the birds. No matter where you live, there are perhaps a dozen species of birds living nearby that would be quite happy to rid your garden of insects.

I have seen this truth in action in my home. Several years ago a mild winter resulted in a bumper crop of grasshoppers the following spring. By July they were everywhere! But what is a problem to a gardener is a boon to a harried mother bird with nestlings to feed. All I had to do was encourage the birds to come to my garden and the grasshoppers were soon hopping for cover.

Like all of God’s creatures, birds need three things: water, food, and shelter. You can easily provide all three and get a reduction in your insect population in the bargain.

Water, The Elixer of Life

The easiest way to encourage visits by birds is to provide a bird bath. Buy one at least 12 inches in diameter to allow for splashing. Keep the water level shallow, perhaps no more than an inch or two, so that they can wade in it.

Locate the birdbath within ten feet of trees or shrubs. Small birds like to have cover nearby to feel safe. Where possible, provide two water sources on opposite sides of the house. Some birds are aggressive in defending food or water sources. Having two sources separated by a distance gives everybody a chance.


Something as simple as a spare garden saucer can be transformed into a bird buffet. They will happily nibble on fruit sections, bread crumbs, and seeds.

What’s For Supper?

Of course, you want the birds to be munching on those grasshoppers, caterpillars, and grubs invading your garden, but to get them to stop by you may need something more. Here’s a couple of suggestions to make those flying visitors stay for supper. A bird feeder or a shallow tray can be stocked with a variety of seeds, fruits, and grains. Check with your local bird supply store about what seed is enjoyed most by the birds in your area. Ask them for seeds that have been cracked so they won’t sprout if they drop to the ground. Don’t throw bread crusts out. Crumble them and scatter them in the garden. I guarantee that those crumbs will disappear before the end of the day.

The plants you select for your garden can also encourage birds to visit. Many shrubs and trees produce fruits and berries  that birds love. The seeds of the Chinese tallow tree in our front yard is a favorite of mourning doves. Whatever you grow, don’t be over zealous in keeping your yard tidy. Where possible, leave berries and seeds on your plants. These are the off-season larder for many birds.

Gimme Shelter!

Besides resting, birds need a spot to build their nest in spring. When trimming your trees, try to leave forks in the branches that might be attractive to songbirds. If you have a large property, don’t be overly tidy around the edges. Tall grasses are favorite nesting spots for some birds.

A bird house is a great way to get them to stay in your patch. Before you do this, consider consulting with local bird supply stores or the Audubon Society. Some birds are very particular about such things as the size of the opening to the bird house; too small and they can’t fit. Too large and an unwanted species (e.g. starlings) may nest there instead.

Birds are one of the delights we can all enjoy. Their lovely songs and interesting habits make them a welcome addition to any garden. A bit of seed, a tray of water, and a place for them to rest is all it takes to make your backyard bird-friendly. This year put out the welcome mat for your feathered friends. You’ll be glad you did.

Not only are birds our allies in the war against damaging insects, but they are also fun to watch and enjoy in our backyard.


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