Georgia Magazine - August 2017 - 37
The role of trees
Native trees are also important to birds, and not just
as places to build their nests. Native tree species are excellent sources of fruit and berries. Dogwood (Cornus spp.),
serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) and holly (Ilex spp.) trees
all bear energy-packed berries. Planting trees that bear
fruit in different seasons can help feed birds year-round.
Alley points out that "trees are the best larval host
plants," providing another important food source for birds.
'Think of the plants in your yard
as bird feeders.'
- Doug Tallamy, professor, University of Delaware
The importance of insects
Even birds that eat seeds, such as cardinals and goldfinches, need insects to feed their babies. "It takes 6,000 to
9,000 caterpillars to feed one clutch of chickadees [to
adulthood], and chickadees are a tiny bird," Tallamy says.
"Think of the number [needed by] healthy communities of
our favorite birds."
If you want to provide insects for the birds, you'll
have to resist the urge to spray pesticides. Pesticides not
only eliminate the chance of future butterflies but also
poison the birds that eat the insects. Joe Lamp'l, the
Atlanta-based host of the national PBS show "Growing a
Greener World," estimates that 7 million birds are killed in
the United States each year from lawn chemicals, including pesticides.
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birds as they are to us. Plant plenty so you'll have enough
to share. With their pink spring flowers and brilliant fall
foliage, they're pretty enough to tuck into any flowerbed.
Native shrubs such as possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and
American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) provide
colorful berries as food, and a vertical screen of vines can
provide cover, even in a small garden. Carolina jessamine
(Gelsemium sempervirens) is a native vine that sports
lovely yellow flowers in early spring and has evergreen
leaves to provide protection all year.
To find more plants adapted to your area, use the Native Plant Finder on the National Wildlife Federation's
website at nwf.org or Audubon's Native Plant Database,
audubon.org/plantsforbirds, which suggests suitable native plants based on your ZIP code. The Georgia Native
Plant Society, gnps.org, also has a statewide list of sources
for native plants.
The American goldfinch is adapted to eat and help spread the seeds
of coneflower (Echinacea), a wildflower native to Georgia.
trees with hollow sections standing in your yard. Otherwise, buy or build nest boxes.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources offers
instructions for building nest boxes for various-sized
birds, including owls and bluebirds, at georgiawildlife.
com/backyardwildlife. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology,
birds.cornell.edu, also provides tips on nest boxes, including what to look for if you buy one and how to install a nest cam.
If possible, leave some dead branches on the ground.
These can be piled neatly in a corner of your yard to
provide shelter for ground-dwelling birds or to house
tasty insects. To attract quail or possibly even wild turkeys, Alley recommends bunch grasses such as splitbeard
bluestem (Andropogon ternarius) or purple love grass
(Eragrostis spectabilis) for these ground-nesting species.
Some plants provide nesting materials for birds. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) isn't just for monarch butterflies;
Carolina chickadees, American goldfinches and Eastern
kingbirds all use the milkweed down to build their nests.
What not to plant
Popular ornamental but non-native species like
crape myrtle, gingko and camellias do not support any
caterpillars, but native varieties of viburnum are an attractive alternative. Some non-native species, such as
privet and Japanese honeysuckle, are invasive. Try to
eliminate them from your yard so that they don't block
out native plants.
Helen Newling Lawson is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from Suwanee.
For the featured plant of the month, see page 42B
of the August 2017 digital edition, online at georgia
Many birds, including cavity-dwellers, rely on trees for
nesting sites. If you can safely do so, consider leaving
More online at www.georgiamagazine.org