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It’s for the birds

Designing a place to welcome our feathered friends

January 31, 2009
By Steve Weisman - Outdoor Editor

We're well into the winter season, but as we look around we can see that nature's creatures are working hard to survive the elements. Birds and animals both are out. Now is a great time to think about what you can do in your yard or your acreage to increase their habitat. At the same time, other benefits can be gained such as energy conservation, insect control, aesthetic and monetary value, instilling love of wildlife and conservation in future generations.

Some people are lucky to live in an area that is already a mature wooded area, but that is more the exception than the rule. So, the idea is to come up with a plan that targets all of the previously mentioned benefits.

One of the most popular hobbies is bird watching, so let's talk about designing habitat for our birds with the idea of making the design so that we can easily see the birds as they flit in and out. This will be a two-part column beginning with a general look at what the area is like and what can fit.

As with humans, birds require food, water and shelter to survive. Trees and shrubs also provide birds with protection from predators, nesting, resting and seeds, nuts and berries to sustain them.

Planting a wide variety of plants will bring more bird species to your yard. Each species has special food requirements, so plan to plant the flowers, shrubs and trees that provide food for the birds you wish to attract. Consideration must also be given to the season and what specific needs are at any given time of the year. Most migrating birds require stops to rest and refuel to assist them in their long journey during the spring and fall of the year.

Whether you are designing a yard with newly constructed home, totally redesigning your property or planting in gradual steps, you will need a well-designed plan. Many resources are available via the Internet to assist in your plan. At the same time, local nurseries will be able to assist you in choosing plants that are native to your location, an important factor in allowing wildlife to thrive in their natural habitat.

By choosing native plants, upkeep is minimal. Local nurseries can actually place your plan on a computer and then show us a visual of the design over several years of growth and further plantings.

Most state wildlife departments also offer landscaping for wildlife ideas. For instance, the Iowa Department of Natural Resource's website can provide a plan, including the plants best suited for a backyard bird sanctuary.

Here are their suggestions: White Pine, Bur Oak, Chokecherry, Gray Dogwood, Serviceberry and Wild Plum for a fence line or corner of the property. Remember to make sure the size of your space will be adequate as these plants mature. Don't make the mistake of putting the plantings too close together, only to realize later that as they mature that some need to be removed.

I did this with two rows of pine trees nearly 20 years ago. I planted them twice as thick because the rule of thumb was I could expect to lose half of the planting. Oops! Over 90 percent survived. That didn't matter during the first 15 years, but they are now starting to really crowd and choke themselves. Think mature size when designing and planting.

So, where do we start? Begin by taking a walk in your yard. Note if it is sunny, shady, moist or dry and any topographic issues that must be included. Consider trees and shrubs you may already have in your yard and how these can be enhanced to provide the food and shelter birds need to make your yard their home. Map out your yard so that the size and number of plants can be determined. Remember to consider utility cables, approximation to your neighbor once the tree or bush is full grown and the needs of your family such as a play area for pets and children.

So, as you wait for spring weather to arrive and it will sooner or later look at what the snow and wind has done to your yard. This can really help you decide what and where to place your new plantings.



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