Attracting Birds – Planting Trees, Shrubs, And Vines

FOR one who owns a farm, or a place with fair-sized grounds, on which he expects to live for a number of years, perhaps no greater returns in bird-life will be given than from a proper planting of trees, shrubs, and vines. A treeless and shrubless locality means a more or less birdless locality. These are essential to furnish nesting-sites and shelter for most of our common birds. These plantings may serve a threefold purpose to furnish shelter, nesting-sites, and food for the birds — in addition to serving their purpose of ornamentation.

Plants for Shelter. — While all trees furnish some shelter for birds, the coniferous trees are specially valuable for this purpose on account of the retention of their foliage during the cold months, which furnishes some protection against the winter storms, and serves as a favorite roosting-place during the long cold nights. Wind-breaks of any kind of trees may also serve as shelter. And the smaller plants, too, such as tangles of shrubs and vines, furnish retreats for many of the smaller birds when pursued by hawks; and serve as shelter for winter birds.

Plants for Nesting-sites. — While occasionally some birds seem to show a preference for some particular kind of tree or shrub in which to place their nests, usually it is a question of the general locality, with its surroundings and the food and protection given, which decides the bird in its selection of a nesting-site. So that those plants which will best serve the purpose of food and shelter will also furnish nesting-sites. A number of trees and tangles of shrubbery, thickly over-grown with vines, furnish the needed conditions for nesting-sites, provided the other factors are favorable.

In selecting trees we should not forget the elm, from whose graceful limbs the oriole so often hangs its swinging nest. If hedges are substituted for fences they may furnish nesting-sites, and at the same time serve as a means of ornamentation.

Experiments in Germany. — Baron von Berlepsch has carried on some very successful experiments in Germany in planting shrubs and trees to serve especially as nesting-sites. In his shelter woods the area is first planted to shrubs, with trees scattered through them. These are allowed to grow for a few years, and then cut back and pruned so as to make whorls of branches to furnish foundations for nests. In the wood at Seebach, this treatment has proved eminently successful, as large numbers of birds nest in these growths, locating their nests chiefly in these whorls. In a similar way evergreens and avenues of trees are pruned to form whorl-shaped ramifications. Bushes with small stems are tied together to form crotches, and out of fifty bushes thus tied, forty-seven were occupied the first year. The Baron’s experiences all indicate that the number of nesting birds may be largely increased by furnishing suitable crotches and nesting-places in shrubs and trees. It is certainly worth while to experiment along these lines in tangles of shrubbery, by pruning the bushes or tying them together so as to form crotches available for nesting-sites.

Plants for Foods. — In selecting our plants the question of food should receive first consideration. Some of our birds feed quite largely on fruits in their season, and a large number of . them select fruits as a small part, at least, of their diet. The essential features regarding the fruit diet of birds are condensed into the accompanying table. This shows the kind of fruit eaten and the birds which feed upon the various kinds.

The table has been compiled largely from the studies on the food of birds made by the Biological Survey of the United States Department of Agriculture, but any other reliable records to which the author has had access have also been used, as Weed and Dearborn’s ” Birds in Their Relation to Man,” and Dr. Hodge’s “Food Chart of Our Common Birds.” Messrs. E. H. Forbush and F. E. L. Beal have both contributed to the chart. A letter F placed in a column signifies that this food is eaten by the bird in question. A double FF indicates that the fruit forms an important article of food. As far as data have been available, the total percentage of the entire food which the wild and cultivated fruits form has been given.

In the table the birds and fruits are arranged alphabetically. Following that, is a list of fruits arranged according to the number of species of birds which eat them, and then a list of birds according to the numbers of species of fruit upon which they are known to feed.

A complete list of fruits eaten by some of the birds would probably include nearly the whole range of wild fruits ; but in addition to the list already given, there are some other fruits which birds have been known to eat : sweet gum, rose, poison ivy, nightshade, sassafras, dewberry, bear-berry, crow-berry, black alder, wintergreen, gray birch, oaks, pines, and moonseed.

Relation of Birds and Fruits. — The brilliant colors of the wild fruits which warm the autumn and winter landscapes, and the extent to which birds feed upon these, suggest one of nature’s great economies. In somewhat the same way that insects are attracted to flowers by their bright colors and strong odors, to secure their nectar and pollen for food, and then distribute the pollen to other flowers, so there is something of the same relation between birds and fruits. The birds are attracted to the shrubs by the bright colors of the fruits, to secure the fleshy mass as food; and in many cases the seeds are carried a considerable distance and then left in various ways ; either by being dropped accidentally or ejected from the mouth or crop, or by being unaffected by the digestive juices as they pass through the alimentary canal, so that they still retain their vitality after being ejected. Opportunity is thus given the plant to germinate its seeds under favorable conditions at a distance from the parent plant, and thus its range is extended. There is undoubtedly much to be learned along this line from a field study of the food-habits of birds during the autumn and winter.

An examination of these lists of birds and fruits gives some idea of the variety of fruit eaten by various birds; and the columns in the table showing the percentage of wild and cultivated fruit give an idea of the quantity of fruit eaten. In general those birds which eat the greatest variety of fruit are the ones which eat the largest quantities. Thus a comparison of these two features may give one a fairly good idea regarding the birds that will be attracted by various fruits.

Most Desirable Fruits. —It is a matter of quite common observation that on the whole the best single tree to plant is the mulberry, either the white or Russian, although the variety seems to make but little difference. It begins to bear early, and its fruit-bearing season is well prolonged. Among the vines it is noted that the Virginia creeper is a favorite. Prof. H. A. Surface writes : ” If we should be obliged to make a selection of only four of these, it would be as follows : (1) an early sweet cherry, (2) the service-(June-)berry, (3) the mulberry, (4) the Virginia creeper.”

From a study of the column showing when the various fruits, ripen, one may select such a series as to give a succession of fruits through the whole season, beginning in the spring and extending even through the winter.

Plants for Ornamentation.—The plants which we set out to attract the birds may also serve the purpose of ornamentation. Among our vines the Virginia creeper, which is a favorite with the birds, is one of the most beautiful of all the vines for decorative effects. Shrubs may be chosen which hold their berries during the winter, thus furnishing the birds with food when it is specially welcome and also adding greatly to the winter landscape by their bright and attractive colors. Some of the shrubs which carry their fruits through a part or the whole of the winter are holly, barberry, bayberry, mountain-ash, black alder, greenbrier, red cedar, sumac, hackberry, bittersweet, burning bush.

Protection of Cultivated Fruits.— For the fruit-grower the planting of the proper trees and bushes for food may fulfill a very practical purpose, because these wild fruits will serve as a protection for the cultivated fruits, as the birds which sometimes eat cultivated fruit will usually take the wild in preference; and furthermore while the birds are eating this fruit they will also feed upon the injurious insects which may be near. It is important therefore to the fruit-grower that he should make a selection of those fruits which will begin to ripen a little before the cultivated fruit he wishes to protect, and remain in fruit till these have all been picked.

The larger fruits, such as apples, pears, and peaches, are not injured to any great extent by the birds. The smaller fruits, such as cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are the ones which may sometimes be destroyed by them. To protect cherries and strawberries, one may plant Russian mulberry and June-berry. Mr. For-bush thinks that the Charles Downing mulberry is even better than the Russian, as a tree to at-tract birds and keep them away from the cherries. It is a quick grower. The fruit is highly colored, large, very early, and edible for man. He writes that where the harder varieties of cherries are grown near these trees, the birds do not seem to trouble the cherries at all.

As another method of protecting fruit, on the side of the orchard or strawberry-patch one may plant a row of some soft, sweet, early variety, to be left unpicked purposely for the birds, which seem to prefer those varieties to those which man deems more valuable.

Mr. G. T. Powell planted a row of Governor Wood cherries along one side of his orchard, especially for the birds, and notes the following results : “I have now bird-cherries by the bushels to spare, and the birds are working on them, but leaving untouched my choice varieties, such as the Montmorency and Richmond. These I am now selling at an extra price, because they are entirely uninjured, while my neighbors, who have not provided for the birds, are forced to sell their cherries at a discount because they are injured.”

To protect raspberries and blackberries, one may plant mulberry, choke cherry, and elder. Some early, sweet variety of these berries may also be left as suggested for cherries and strawberries. Grapes may be protected by planting elder, Virginia creeper, and black cherry.

Annuals. — There are also some annuals which may be grown to attract birds. A row of sun-flowers at the back of the garden may be visited by goldfinches or others of the finch family. Gold-finches may also eat the seeds of the blue corn-flowers. The hummingbird may be attracted by bright flowers with deep tubes. The bird prefers either red or orange flowers. Some of its favorite flowers among wild plants are coral honeysuckle, painted-cup, columbine, jewel-weed, Oswego tea, cardinal-flower; and among cultivated plants, columbine, scarlet salvia, trumpet-creeper, bee-balm, nasturtium, gladiolus, horse-chestnut.

The following interesting account is given in ” Bird-Lore,” by Caroline G. Soule : Humming-birds were frequent visitors to the flowers of a trumpet-creeper situated near a house. An imitation flower was made by painting a piece of paper and bending it into the required shape. Inside of this was placed a small bottle filled with sugar and water. This artificial flower was tied to the vine and was visited at once by the birds, and indeed such preference was shown for it that it was necessary to fill the bottle twice a day. On one occasion the bird came to this artificial flower while it was held in the hand.