Attracting Florida's Birds To Your Garden
by Terra Hangen

"I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and
very frankly give them fruit for their songs". Joseph Addison, 1711 The

What would a garden be without bird song and bird dancing? If your garden in
Florida doesn't already resonate with the sweet songs of birds, you will
readily attract some feathered friends by following some of the tips you
will find here. If you already have a constant supply of bird visitors, you
will find an idea or two here to welcome even more songsters.

Florida is paradise for bird lovers with incredible diversity in birds,
including more than 480 bird species. In addition to year round bird
residents, Florida provides a winter haven for many species that return
north in spring. This lets gardeners readily attract a wide variety of bird
visitors, both common and rare. Using the ideas explored here, you can
attract Purple Martins, Summer Tanagers, Painted Buntings, Eastern
and more to your garden.

To attract birds most people think of providing food. Actually providing
fresh clean water is an even greater attraction for birds. Water will often
induce migrating birds to stop for a drink and a rest. This easily increases
the types of birds in your garden. A quick and easy birdbath you can make
for yourself involves a stand made of a large clay pot that you turn upside
down. The water basin is made from a large clay saucer that is glazed. The
ideal way to provide water is with a traditional bird bath on a pedestal.
Don't provide water or food too close to the ground, unless you have no cats
or other furry predators in your garden. It is good to place the bird bath
on a lawn, or surrounded by short flowers or shrubs, to eliminate cover for
cats to sneak up on the birds.

A second water attraction that almost magically fascinates birds is dripping
water. Especially during the long hot summer, birds can't seem to resist
this feature. Trust me, if you set up a source of dripping water, birds that
you have not seen before will visit your yard. You can buy little water
drippers that attach to a bird bath. These use a small pump and a hookup to
a garden hose. For another approach, pound a nail into a plastic pail,
creating a tiny hole, then fill the pail with water and hang it up high.
Place a container underneath it to hold water, so that the falling drops
make a sound as they hit the container. Humming birds, Crested Flycatchers,
Swallows and Goldfinches are enamored of the sound and the sight of this
drip drip dripping, and will take showers and drinks in mid-air. This is
much more entertaining for the gardener to watch than anything TV has to

It is simple to begin feeding birds in your garden. At some point you will
want to purchase a bird identification book, like Florida's Birds by Herbert
Kale, or any Audubon or Roger Tory Peterson guide book. Once you can
identify what birds you already have, and what birds you would like to
attract, select bird food and feeders suited to those species. An easy way
to start is with one of the tube bird feeders filled with black sunflower
seeds. You will attract many athletic perching birds with this type of
feeder and food, including Purple Finches, Goldfinches, Pine Siskins ,
Chickadees, and Painted Buntings.

Another group of birds like Mourning Doves and Rock Doves can't cling to
tiny perches while feeding so the tube feeders aren't available for them.
These birds will welcome a flat platform feeder. The doves will be joined by
the versatile Grosbeaks, Buntings, Cardinals, Scrub Jays and Finches. Serve
mixed grains as food in these platform feeders. The best mixed grains are
sold in bags containing white proso millet, wheat and Milo (sorghum),
thistle (Niger) seeds and black sunflower seed. Millet is a small nutritious
grain with essential amino acids, wheat and Milo are favored by small birds,
thistle is high in protein and fat, and sunflower seeds provide oils. Some
homes have a perfect window where you can attach a platform feeder right
outside the window. You will relish the chance to sneak very close up peeks
at your avian buddies. My favored window for platform feeders is the
kitchen window over the sink, where dish washing becomes more fun when
feathered visitors drop by for a snack of seeds or grapes.

Peanuts are another secret weapon in the art of attracting birds to your
garden. Peanuts are high in protein and oils and Woodpeckers, Tufted
, and Florida Scrub Jays will come over to feast on them. Unshelled
peanuts can be bought at feed stores at a very reasonable price.

Don't ignore the dazzling Summer Tanagers, Florida Cardinals, Grosbeaks and
Orioles that enjoy fruit. Cut an orange in half, pound a nail into a fence,
and push the orange onto the nail, skin side down. Somehow the bright color
of the orange is a beacon to Florida's Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles,
Spot-Breasted Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, who will greatly relish
this treat. If you place grapes and raisins on a platform feeder for these
birds they will be joined by Mockingbirds, Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds and
Cedar Waxwings.

For sheer beauty Hummingbirds can not be overlooked. They look like jewels
dancing as they visit flowers in search of nectar and the occasional insect.
The only hummingbird that breeds in Florida is the Ruby-throated
. Other hummingbirds that can be seen in Florida include the
Rufous and Black-chinned, Anna's, Calliope's and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.
A direct approach to attracting Hummingbirds is to plant anything that has
flowers that look like small tubes. Red and yellow are very magnetic colors
for these little wizards of the air. Trumpet vines, fuchsias, honey suckle,
flowering sages, jasmine, coral bells, scarlet morning glory, tulip tree,
red buckeye, and sweet pepper bush all have flowers that hummingbirds favor.

As a back up provide sugar water from a hummingbird feeder, purchased at any
pet or garden supply store. You can buy a food mix or dissolve ¼ cup white
sugar in 1 cup boiling water. Do not put the hanging feeder in the sun,
where the water can get dangerously hot, and do not make food for the feeder
with honey which can cause disease in the birds. Hummingbirds become very
territorial and will fight to keep other birds away from their feeders, so
if you want to attract a lot of these birds, put up additional feeders.

Florida's gardeners can boost the numbers of avian visitors by selecting
plants that give birds food and shelter; each time you visit a plant
nursery, keep the birds in mind. One versatile bush is the Wax Myrtle , also
called Southern Wax Myrtle, Bayberry or Candleberry. Birds will often nest
in this shrub and the berries are prized by White-Eyed Vireos, Myrtle
Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Rufous-sided
, Eastern Kingbirds (Bee Birds) and Bobwhites.

Another bird friendly bush is the Elderberry. The Elderberry produces small
juicy fruits eagerly sought by virtually all songbirds, from the Indigo
Bunting to Woodpeckers, Towhees, Orioles and Kingbirds. Researchers tell us
that 120 species relish this fruit as food. Ideally every garden will
include one or more Elderberry bush along its borders, with their showy
blossoms and fruit. When planted in a group, the mature Elderberry often
provides shelter for bird nests.

Sunflowers are a prime bird attraction as well as boosting the beauty of any
garden. Use six-packs of seedlings, or plant seeds. If you love bringing the
outdoors in to your home with bouquets, you will want to plant extras, since
they are stunning cut flowers, while the seeds are very nutritious for
birds. Sunflowers come in yellow, brown, orange and red, and seed packets
let you get a wide variety of colors, flower sizes, and heights. Birds that
prize these seeds include Grosbeaks (black-headed, blue and rose-breasted),
Scrub Jays, Sparrows (Harris', house, lark, Lincoln's, white-crowned, song),
Florida Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and
American Goldfinches.

For more inspiration and detailed information consult a book like
"Attracting Birds To Your Backyard" by Sally Roth.

So please go ahead and fill your garden with song. Your garden will gain in
beauty and you will be joining a movement which is making space and
providing food for songbirds. Their grace and their antics will repay you a
thousand times.