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Make Your Yard a Friendly Habitat for Resident and Migratory Birds


Honeysuckle flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds.

If You Plant Natives, Birds Will Come

By Mara Soloway

The Houston area has numerous resident bird species, thanks to its humid subtropical climate. The area is also in the migratory path of so many more birds as they make their way across and around the Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. This abundant avian life needs a place to rest and nest and to fuel themselves on insects, fruits and seeds. Homeowners can help these winged creatures by filling their yards with native, ecologically friendly landscaping.

By adding native plants to one’s yard, balcony, container garden, rooftop or public space, we can not only attract more birds but give them the best chance of survival in the face of climate change and urban development.

“Bird gardening creates beautiful spaces that provide sanctuary for wildlife and for ourselves. Imagine coming home to your yard filled with flowers, butterflies and birds after a long day at work!” said Sarah Flournoy, program manager of Houston Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Communities.

“A key reason why native plants are so important is that they host the protein-rich native insects that birds need to survive and raise young. It’s a wonderfully functional system of plants-insects-birds.”

Both resident and migratory birds can be discovered in the area’s urban and suburban settings. Here is a partial list of birds you may find at different times of the year – along the bayous, in your neighborhood park, or in your own yard – and foods that attract them.

Cardinals, Grosbeaks, and Tanagers:Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and elderberries (Sambucus spp.)

Chickadees and Titmice: Sumacs (Rhus spp.)

Finches: Composite flowers (Aster­aceae family), spruces (Abies spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.)

Hummingbirds: Honeysuckle vines (Lonicera spp.), penstemons (Pentemon spp.), milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), and sages (Salvia spp.)

Sparrows: Blackberries (Rubus spp.) and wild grasses (Andropogon, Bout­eloua, Panicum and Sorghastrum spp.)

Warblers and Vireos: Oaks (Quercus spp.)

Woodpeckers: Pines (Pinus spp.), hickories (Carya spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.) and cherries (Prunus sp.)

 

Bird-Friendly Landscape

Houston Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Yard Program aims to build corridors of wildlife habitat that support birds by offering food, water, and shelter, and by limiting threats.

“Participants are demonstrating their commitment to helping birds and to inspiring others to join in the collective effort,” said Flournoy. “Many Houston-area residents already recognize the importance of their own green spaces to birds, to each other, and to future generations. Having a yard of lawn and simple hedge is no longer the ideal when considering our long-term vision for the area.”

Houston Audubon’s recommendations for creating a Bird-Friendly Yard are:

 

Plant Native Plants for Birds

  • Provide food in the form of insects, nuts, seeds, fruit and nectar throughout the year.
  • Explore lawn alternatives.

Create Inviting Habitats

  • Add a feeder, water
    feature or nest box.
  • Add diversity into your landscape through layers: ground, grasses, shrubs, small trees, and canopy trees.

Limit Threats to Birds

  • Keep cats indoors.
  • Avoid using pesticides.
  • Design structures to limit window strikes.

Connect With Others

  • Join an urban bird survey.
  • Join the Bird-Friendly Yard Program.

 

Additionally, residents are asked to avoid invasive species, such as Chinese Elm, Bradford Pear, Ligustrums, Nandina, Elephant Ear, Liriope and Pampas Grass.

“Invasive species are a significant problem because they do not support wildlife with nutritious food, yet they can easily dominate other beneficial plants. The first step is identification, the next step is removal, and the third step is replacement with a native tree, shrub, grass, vine or wildflower,” Flournoy said.

 

Start Your Landscape Plan with the ABCs

Assess. Know your site. Is it sunny or shady? Assess your soil, sun and water conditions and plan accordingly. Supplement soil with compost if needed. Choose design features to enhance your plantings and promote easier maintenance.

Best Plants. Choose a diverse range of native plants, adapted for our region that support the insect species that birds need to survive and raise their young. Native nectar and seed plants also provide food for birds. Plants in a range of heights, patterns, and thickness provide necessary cover and nesting space.

Care and Maintenance. Plan to work regularly for the first three years in order to weed, water and ensure continued health of the wildlife habitat. Pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides all affect the natural system, so avoid when possible or choose creative natural alternatives.

“Birds and native plants are made for each other thanks to millions of years of evolution,” said Dr. John Rowden, Au­dubon’s director of community conservation. “As plants grow and bloom earlier because of warming temperatures, there is a growing mismatch between bloom times and the arrival of birds that depend on them. Habitat provided by native plants can help climate threatened birds adapt and survive.”

Visit houstonaudubon.org for more information about birds in our area and the hours of the organization’s Natives Nursery at 440 Wilchester, where many of the plants mentioned can be purchased. Contact Flournoy with any questions relating to the Bird-Friendly Yard Program at sflournoy@houstonaudubon.org.

 

A titmouse stands on a sunflower. (Photo - Shutterstock)

A titmouse stands on a sunflower. (Photo – Shutterstock)

 

Elderberry flowers in bloom. (Photo - Shutterstock)

Elderberry flowers in bloom. (Photo – Shutterstock)

 

A female Cardinal perches on a branch of a live oak before dropping to a feeding station. (Photo - Shutterstock)

A female Cardinal perches on a branch of a live oak before dropping to a feeding station. (Photo – Shutterstock)

 

Houston Aububon recommendations of the most bird-friendly plants for the Houston area include the following. Consider taking this list to your local plant nursery, or find a native plant sale near you.

Houston Aububon recommendations of the most bird-friendly plants for the Houston area include the following. Consider taking this list to your local plant nursery, or find a native plant sale near you.


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