Whether they are just visiting or staying to raise a family, birds benefit our yards directly by consuming vast quantities of pest insects and weed seeds. Birds also provide delightful color, movement and song. Learning about different birds and their lifestyles and food preferences increases our enjoyment of our yards. Pleasant as this sounds, there’s a note of urgency, too. As open spaces such as woodlands, meadows and fields continue to fall under development, birds must rely more and more on suburban yards for food, water, and shelter. Just about any yard will attract some local neighborhood birds such as sparrows, starlings, and robins, which have adjusted to our housing and our suburban lawn monoculture. But any other birds are not so fortunate. We can and should attract many more kinds of birds by planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that supply the diverse needs of many bird species, including migrants that will stop by on their way to and from their seasonal homes. This file offers some suggestions on how to do this.
What Birds Eat
In other files, we discuss how to attract birds by feeding them with seed, suet cake, fruit slices, stale bread and other foods to supplement their natural diet. In selecting particular plants for birds, we ensure a long-range supply of buds, flowers, berries, fruits, grains, nuts, cones, seeds, sap, and even nectar for hummingbirds. The birds will find abundant insect food on these plants as well.
Plants that retain their fruits and berries over much of the winter are especially important. For example, a recent study of nearly 70 species of migrating birds along the southern New England coastline found that most of them switched form eating insects during the breeding season to mostly fruits and berries (such as arrowwood, bayberry, and pokeweed) for the long flight to their Latin American wintering grounds.