Gardening for birds is another way to build biodiversity in garden spaces. Like pollinators and other insects, wild birds are under pressure due to habitat loss, pollution, and ever expanding human settlement. By including certain plants and building certain habitats, gardeners can ease this pressure, and even benefit from the presence of some bird species.
Most birds are specialists when it comes to finding food. The shape of a bird's bill is the most obvious indicator of their specialty. Hummingbirds probe flowers for nectar. Woodpeckers chip tree bark to find insects. Sparrows have stout bills for grinding and cracking seeds. Chickadees are adept at finding aphids and caterpillars — but they can also open sunflower seeds.
Some plants provide food in the form of seeds, or as hosts to insects. Others provide nesting material. Some plants simply provide shelter and protection from predators. Designing garden spaces with birds in mind can add much to the overall health of the ecosystem.
Native birds benefit from native plants, and there are some good resources online to help come up with native plants by region. The Canadian Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Encyclopedia is an amazing resource and a great place to start. In the US, the Audubon Society's Native Plants Database provides a similar resource with even more bird-specific information. Simply enter a zip code, and feast on all the information.
More generally, there are some common garden plants that benefit a wide variety of birds. Think of it as growing birdseed.
Agastache - Anise Hyssop will attract hummingbirds and butterflies while it's in bloom, and then as the seeds set, sparrows and finches will be glad for the seeds.
Cornflowers - This annual flower is very easy to grow, it has edible flower petals, and produces seeds that are sought by numerous bird species.
Cosmos - Regular Sensation Mix as well as the Bright Lights golden Cosmos both produce seeds that birds will eat. Enjoy the flowers in summer and as fall approaches allow some of the plants to mature and dry for the birds.
Douglas Aster - This plant blooms at the end of summer and provides an important source of pollen for late season pollinators like Skipper butterflies. Then it produces nutritious seeds for wild birds.
Echinacea - Purple Coneflowers are highly ornamental perennials that bloom over a long period in the summer. As the flowers fade, edible seeds mature in the "cone" section that attract finches and other seed eaters.
Gaillardia - Blanketflower is another coneflower that features upward-pointing seed heads at the end of the season. This will attract a variety of finches.
Milkweed - Birds of many kinds can use the silk attached to milkweed seeds as nesting material. Butterfly Bush Milkweed does very well in hot, dry situations, while Swamp Milkweed is a better choice for boggy areas.
Sunflower - All sunflowers produce edible seeds for birds. Peredovik produces the much prized black oil sunflower. The giants like Russian Mammoth produce larger morsels. Sunflowers that are planted in groups provide extra shelter for birds as they feed on the seeds. Sunflowers produce seeds that are high in fat, and they do so just before the arrival of cold weather, when birds most benefit from a fat-rich diet.
This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it begins to show just how many familiar garden plants can be incorporated to enrich the lives of local and migratory birds. This is not even to mention all the vines, shrubs, and trees that produce berries and fruits.
Birdbaths may seem like a quaint or old fashioned idea, but it can't be overstated just how important a source of fresh water is to wild birds. Birdbaths can be constructed from a wide variety of materials, as long as they are wide and shallow like a large pie plate. They need to cleaned and refilled regularly, particularly during hot, dry weather. It's helpful to incorporate a small pump or bubbler to disturb the water's surface. Passing birds will notice the ripples and stop for a drink or bath.