Bird watching is one of the most popular hobbies in the country. If you want to see more, just remember that all birds need the same three things…food, water, and shelter.
Shelter can be many different things, as different species of birds need different environments. An ideal landscape would include an open grassy area, some dense shrubbery or a thicket, and some tall trees. Multiple layers will attract a wide variety of birds and provide both foraging and nesting areas. And don’t forget that some birds, such as striking blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and painted buntings prefer weedy places.
Food is critical. Some species of birds eat seeds while other types of birds eat insects and berries. Therefore, having berry producing plants like native cedars, hollies, and viburnums is wise. If you have a large lot or property in the country, you’ll want to allow native plants like hackberry, cherry laurel, and greenbriar to persist. The reason these plants are such a “nuisance” is because birds eat their berries and spread them around as nature intended. Every native plant serves a purpose in the wild.
If you want birds, you’ll also want to limit your use of pesticides in the garden. Always remember that adult birds feed their babies caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, and other small soft insects. Trees, shrubs, and other plants produce fruit, seed, and insects for the birds, while the birds spread the seed to make more plants. It has worked for thousands of years, so don’t mess with Mother Nature.
Black oil sunflower seed is the birdseed of choice for feeding and viewing the best range of birds. Cheaper bird seed has a number of other seed added that attracts lower quality birds. With black oil sunflower seed out during the wintertime you can expect cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, titmice, occasional woodpeckers, and special guests like rose-breasted grosbeaks. Suet cakes help feed the fruit and insect eating birds when those resources aren’t around during the winter. I use the no-melt peanut type. At my farm I get a steady stream of pine warblers, Carolina wrens, brown-headed nuthatches, and chipping sparrows feeding on them. Some birders have no luck with suet cakes while I have to keep four out at a time to satisfy my hungry rural customers.
To be quite honest, a bird bath in Texas during the summertime is much more important than a bird feeder. Just make sure and keep it clean and full as the birds will enjoy both drinking and bathing in it.
Just like flowers and butterflies, we all have our favorite birds and can adapt our landscapes to attract those we like best. As a child, I enjoyed seeing blue jays and cardinals because of their colors. Now, my personal favorites are woodpeckers, bluebirds, and brown-headed nuthatches. These are all cavity dwellers that depend on dying and dead trees in nature along with berries and insects so I try to keep plenty of those around as well.
For more information on our feathered friends, you can follow “Birding with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service” on Facebook.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.