Q:I like having wild birds visit my garden. What plants can I put in my landscape that will attract birds and reduce reliance on bird feeders? — Marianne Brown, Cambria.
A: Attracting birds to your garden has many benefits. Birds eat insects and add life, color, and song to your outdoor surroundings. Planting a few small trees and shrubs that provide food and shelter for birds will make your garden an avian paradise.
Native plants are usually best for attracting birds. They are the natural diet of local birds and will not become invasive in open space or landscapes. Birds do have a habit of spreading seeds so beware, some exotic plants that birds love will show up in the most unexpected places.
Listed below are a few common native shrubs and small trees that can provide cover and food for local birds. The coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) provides fruit for thrushes, mockingbirds, robins, jays, and finches. It comes in varieties that grow from 1 to 15 feet. Quail, towhees, western bluebirds, robins, and mo ckingbirds love the toyon’s (Heteromeles arbutifolia) red berries. California wax myrtle (Myrica californica) can grow tall but can be kept as a hedge and provide nutlets favored by flickers, finches and robins. Ceanothus, elderberries, native roses, manzanita, Oregon grape, and flowering currants or gooseberries will attract a variety of wild birds and are drought-tolerant.
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Some smaller herbaceous plants that attract birds and fit well in landscapes are: columbine (Aquilegia formosa), bleeding heart (Dicentra Formosa), Heuchera spp., scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), Penstemon heterophyllus, and sage (Salvia spp.).
With a little effort and planning you can create a habitat that will bring life to a garden. Feathered, winged, bipedal visitors will be entertaining and add many hours of enjoyment to your outdoor environment.