Frequently I get asked how to attract more wildlife to yards, other than providing food via bird feeders. There are several ways, and here are two that can easily be executed during the summer months.
Adding water to your landscape, especially in the summer months, is crucial for making your yard wildlife friendly. Birds prefer moving water, so adding a fountain as a water feature will help draw in more birds. Moving water can be added to your yard in many ways. There are solar fountain kits that will sit in a birdbath or pond and run a spray of water as the sun hits their solar panel. Plug-in fountains, especially those that have a look of natural rocks, offer a flow of water that songbirds enjoy. Another product, called a water wiggler, is available in both solar and battery-operated models. The water wiggler can be placed in a birdbath to agitate the water, attracting songbirds and also eliminating mosquitos’ ability to lay eggs in the water. Not all birds will come to a bird feeder or nest in a birdhouse, but they all use water for drinking and bathing. Adding a water feature will increase the amount of species, and quantity of birds that will visit your yard.
Planting a variety of native trees, shrubs and plants is another effective way of attracting birds to your yard all year. Wild fruits are an important food source to birds, especially migrating birds. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is a shrub highly recommended due to the high fat, antioxidant and carbohydrate content of its berries. Arrowwood also attracts native bees to its blooms. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Gray dogwood (Cornus racemose), Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and Red Osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) are also highly recommended for songbirds due to their ability to keep birds energized during their migrations. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar of the beautiful blooming Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Beebalm (Monarda didyma). The hummingbird clearwing moth also is often spotted sipping nectar from beebalm. Native trees provide space for birds to build their nests and raise their young while also providing habitat for insects to lay their eggs and leaves for their developing larvae to dine on. Oak, serviceberry, and sugar maple trees are known for hosting a wide diversity of species. Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) have lovely blooms all summer long and in the fall their seeds feed finches.
One of the best resources I’ve found for wildlife-friendly gardening is the Native Plant Shopping Guide, put out every year by Habitat Gardening in Central New York (HGCNY). http://www.hgcny.org/docs/15-Guide-Complete.pdf. Susan Smith & Scott McWilliams have collaborated to make a great listing of migratory bird-friendly shrubs. Smith, S. B. and S. R. McWilliams. 2015. Recommended plantings for migratory songbird habitat management. Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Rhode Island. 2 p.
Liz Magnanti is the manager of The Bird House on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford. She has a degree in wildlife conservation and has worked as a naturalist at various nature centers.