CO-Horts Blog

Monday, March 11, 2019

Attracting Birds All Year-Round

Photo Credit: Brandon K. Percival; Northern Cardinal;Audubon112 Annual Christmas Count; Pueblo Reservoir, CO

By Linda Langelo, CSU Horticulture Agent, Golden Plains Area

How do we care for our fine-feathered friends throughout the year? Here are a few suggestions based on a bird's basic needs:

  • Bird need a diversity of food sources
  • Like any wild animal, birds need shelter
  • Birds need nesting sites
  • Birds need plenty of water
In among the trees and shrubs, various birds have different niches at different levels.  Some forage on the ground while others forage and stay among the treetops.

But here is the important thing.  Naturally occurring local plant material is the best for attracting birds. Why? The birds are familiar to the local native plant venue.  Without a good mix of native plants, there really is nothing on the menu.  I compare this to my own dietary restrictions.  I am gluten free.  When I am out traveling and stop to eat at places which are familiar to me that carry gluten free selections on the menu.  Otherwise, I won't be stopping.

Here are a few native shrubs from which to choose:

  1. Serviceberry - Amelanchier alnifolia
  2. Red Twig Dogwood - Cornus sericea
  3. Wax Currant - Ribes cereum
  4. Red Berried Elder - Sambucus racemose
  5. Western Sand Cherry - Prunus besseyi
  6. Woods' Rose - Rosa woodsii
  7. Silver Buffaloberry - Sherpherdia argentea
  8. Sumac - variety of species
Photo Credit: Shelley Dahme; Eastern Towhee; 112 Annual Christmas Bird Count; Longmont, CO

 For a more comprehensive listing of native shrubs in Colorado, here is a good Colorado State University Extension Fact Sheet: 7.422 Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes;

Providing shelter varies with the species of bird.  According to "Birds and Blooms", Chickadees prefer small trees and shrubs or thickets for shelter while Blue birds prefer being close to open fields. For the various birds that come in your landscape, you can provide bird houses for them in their preferred habitat.  Here is a link to an article from "Birds and Blooms":

For placing birdhouses in your landscape, pay attention to the different habitats of the variety of birds
that visit.  If it is not the correct location, the birdhouse may remain unused.

Water is the next important thing.  Like all other living beings, birds need water.  They need it 365 and a half days a year.  The trick according to Cornell Lab Ornithology is selecting the right type of birdbath.  It cannot be too deep.  It needs to be somewhat sheltered for protection.  Birdbaths need to be easy to clean.  For more specific details, here is a link to Bird Notes from Sapsucker Woods by Cornell Lab Ornithology: ProvideWater.pdf

One final and interesting note about birds is the colors which attract different species.  Here is a link to the National Wildlife Federation article: "True Colors: How Birds See the World," by Cynthia Berger (2012).  In short, birds have 4 cone cells in their eyes while we have three. The fourth cone cell is sensitive to seeing UV wavelengths.  Plus, it has been discovered that birds have a colored oil in each cone cell.  Overall, they see what we cannot.  Happy reading!

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