Updated: Jan 31
Long Island is a fantastic place for birding, whether in a park or your own backyard.
To increase the amount of birds in your own yard you will need a fresh water source. This can be a birdbath*, pond, fountain (small or large) or small patio water garden. Water helps birds stay hydrated, clean and it cools them off during the hot summer months.
Shelter is also important for nesting and safety (to elude predators). Shelter can be a brush pile behind a shed, stacked wood piles, nesting and roosting boxes, dead trees (if they can be safely kept on site without posing a threat to your house or yourself) and a layered woodland (see pic below). This layered woodland will also provide places for insects, which the birds will rely on for food. You don’t need a lot of space to do this. It can be a small corner in your yard, a fence line, a stand alone island bed and even created with large planters!
And last but not least, food from berries to seeds to nectar. This is where our native plants are most important and are the obvious choice for bringing birds into your yard. Many of our native trees, shrubs and perennials are host plants**. A host plant is a plant a butterfly or moth relies on to lay their eggs and have food for the larvae when it emerges.
Bird feeders and suet feeders*** (best for cold weather as high temperatures can turn it rancid quickly) are okay for supplemental food in the late fall and winter but come spring and summer remove this feature to encourage the birds to forage for caterpillars, seeds, etc. It is also very important to keep the area below the feeders tidy to discourage rats and diseases. Using a ‘no mess’ (no husks or shells) mix of seed and nuts will help to keep the area below the feeders cleaner. Simply rake and throw away any feces and shells at least once a week.
Native Plants for Native Birds
This is a short list of native plants to bring in the native birds. You don’t need all of them to attract the birds, just a few will make a big difference in your yard!
Trees - necessary for nesting, food and shelter
Betula nigra - River Birch
Celtis occidentalis - Common Hackberry
Juniperus virginiana - Easter Red Cedar
Persimmon virginiana - Common Persimmon
Prunus maritima - Beach Plum
Prunus serotina - Black Cherry
Prunus virginiana - Chokecherry
Quercus species (Red, White, Black, Pin, Bear)
Salix discolor - Pussy Willow
Salix nigra - Black Willow
Sassafras albidum - Sassafras
Shrubs - understory layers and great for providing shelter and food
Amelanchier canadensis - Serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis - Allegheny Serviceberry
Aronia arbutifolia - Red Chokeberry
Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry
Callicarpa americana - American Beautyberry
Cephalanthus occidentalis - Buttonbush
Cornus alternifolia - Pagoda Dogwood
Cornus florida - Common Dogwood
Cornus racemosa - Gray Dogwood
Ilex glabra - Inkberry
Ilex verticillata - Winterberry
Rhus typhina - Staghorn Sumac
Sambucus canadensis - Black Elderberry
Vaccinium corymbosum - Highbush Blueberry
Viburnum dentatum - Arrowwood
Perennials: field and herb level for shelter, food and nesting material
Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower
Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal Flower
Rudbeckia laciniata - Laceleaf Coneflower
Solidago odora - Sweet Goldenrod
Solidago sempervirens - Seaside Goldenrod
Vines: provide shelter and food
Lonicera sempervirens - Coral Honeysuckle
Parthenocissus quinqefolia - Virginia Creeper
Some of our native feathered friends:
Male White-breasted Nuthatch
Cedar Waxwing enjoying the berries from an Eastern Red Cedar
Female Northern Cardinal in winter
Northern Mockingbird in late winter
Female Red-bellied Woodpecker attending to her brood
The 25th Great Backyard Bird Count will be happening February 18th through February 21st. This is a great time to start birding and sharing it with others, especially children. This is worldwide and for a good cause. For more information: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/about-great-backyard-bird-count.
pics: KMS Native Plants LLC
*change the water daily and be sure to thoroughly clean your bird baths at least once a week. I use a few drops of dawn liquid soap and a stiff scrub brush. Make sure you rinse thoroughly.
***Remember to clean your feeders at least every two weeks with 9 parts water to 1 part bleach and make sure it dries completely before filling it with food again.