Creating Habitat for Birds in Central Florida
Recently the weather was warm enough for lunch on the patio and as we ate one of our guests remarked about how many birds he was observing in our backyard. It’s always good to have outside eyes on a property, for home often becomes common and things are overlooked or taken for granted. I shared with him that it probably was my affinity for a variety of shrubs that attracted the number and diversity of birds he was seeing. It was never my intent to create a bird habitat in my Florida yard, but if I had thought about it I certainly would have.
How often over the years have I been outside working on some project or relaxing in the backyard, only to pause and enjoy the song shared by a bird somewhere in the immediate area. Others add great color to a landscape, particularly the red of a cardinal or the wonderful hue of the bluebird. Many have been the early mornings in spring when I have sat inside the house and wondered at the variety of happy melodies that reverberate through the yard.
Birds are picky about landscapes – they have to be for their safety depends on it. A mixture of trees, shrubs and open areas are important to supply things birds need to survive and raise their young. Ordinarily one might think of large trees as a key element in attracting birds, but undoubtedly it is the medium-sized shrub that largely determines how many and what types of birds will inhabit a landscape. Shrubs provide immediate and dense cover – an escape from cats, hawks, owls and whatever other predators a bird might encounter. One need not observe them long to note their repeated nervous scan of their immediate surroundings and their continual survey for predators. Only a pedestrian on the streets of a city after dark is more nervous than a bird in the open. The close access to dense shrubs in which to duck into and hide is a necessary provision if one is to have birds.
Water is also a needful element for birds and an artificial birdbath may be an item landscapers can employ to enhance the yard for feathered friends. The dry season in Florida typically begins in October and runs through the end of May. One might consider a seasonal birdbath that can be deployed in the dry months then be emptied and stored during the summer mosquito season when rains ensure water for birds is abundant.
Some birds need open space and lawns and pastures provide requirements that satisfy their food needs. This is particularly true for nesting birds which rear their young on insects. Of these, caterpillars are often the food of choice as these are rich in fat and protein. Have problems with armyworms in your yard or pasture? It has been reported that over the 16 day period required to raise a clutch of 4 – 6 Carolina Chickadees the parents must gather and feed the brood 390 – 570 caterpillars a day. That can total 9,000 caterpillars to raise one hatch of young! Or, perhaps one might say, that’s 9,000 caterpillars that won’t become egg-laying adult moths, to reproduce and consume lawns and pastures.
So what trees and shrubs in particular are good choices to attract birds to Florida lawns in the north central portion of the state? For large trees, consider the red maple, hickory, pecan, southern magnolia, sand, slash or longleaf pine, any of the oak species, bald cypress or winged elm. Shrubs include the hollies, crape myrtles, fringetree, stoppers, wax myrtle, beautyberry, hawthorn, privet, firebush, azalea, dwarf palmetto and viburnum. Among the palm varieties the windmill, lady and sabal palms are all noted as friendly to birds.
One of the elements suggested to attract birds is a bird feeding station. Being a gardener first I have always resisted the temptation to offer seeds for birds. These become windborne, fall to the ground and germinate to become weeds in the lawn. They also attract squirrels which may supplant the intended bird population altogether. While fun to watch for a while, squirrels bring a variety of problems to the yard and before long often wear out their welcome. It has been my experience that if the other elements are in place – cover, water and open space for food sources – the seed feeders aren’t needed. You’ll have plenty of birds without them.
If you are thinking of modifying your landscape, why not consider adding elements that will attract birds to your yard? You will enjoy their antics, their color and the wonderful songs they bring to serenade your day.