Bringing Birds To the Garden

September through December proves the best time of year for planting new trees and shrubs in our area. Woodies planted now have the chance to develop strong root systems through the autumn and winter. They are more likely to survive when planted in fall than in the spring.

My ‘to do’ list for the next few weeks includes moving various shrubs and small trees out of their pots and into the ground. And I am always most interested in those woody plants which also attract and support birds in our garden.

This post contains a revised list of  more than 30 woody plants which attract and support a wide variety of birds.  These are native or naturalized in our region of the United States.  Adding a few of these beautiful trees and shrubs guarantees more birds visiting your garden, too.

Read on for specific tips to increase the number of  wildlife species, especially birds, which visit your garden throughout the year.


Forest Garden

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Do you feed the birds?  Most of us gardeners do.  Unless you are protecting a crop of blueberries or blackberries, you probably enjoy the energy and joy birds bring to the garden with their antics and songs.  Birds also vacuum up thousands of flying, crawling, and burrowing insects.  Even hummingbirds eat an enormous number of insects as they fly around from blossom to blossom seeking sweet nectar.  Birds are an important part of a balanced garden community.

We have everything from owls and red tailed hawks to hummingbirds visiting our garden, and we enjoy the occasional brood of chicks raised in shrubs near the house. There is an extended family of red “Guard-inals” who keep a vigilant watch on our coming and goings and all of the activities of the garden.  There are tufted titmice who pull apart the coco liners in the hanging baskets to build their…

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Sunday Dinner: First Snow

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“My religion consists of a humble admiration

of the illimitable superior spirit

who reveals himself in the slight details

we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”


Albert Einstein


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“Age has no reality except in the physical world.

The essence of a human being

is resistant to the passage of time.

Our inner lives are eternal,

which is to say that our spirits

remain as youthful and vigorous

as when we were in full bloom.

Think of love as a state of grace,

not the means to anything,

but the alpha and omega.

An end in itself.”


Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez


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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,

it must come completely undone.

The shell cracks, its insides come out

and everything changes.

To someone who doesn’t understand growth,

it would look like complete destruction.”


Cynthia Occelli


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“You do not need to go

to any temple or church to worship God.

The whole existence is God’s temple.

Your own body is the temple of God.

Your own heart is the shrine.

You do not need to subscribe

to any religion to experience God.

The only religion you need

to experience God is love,

kindness and respect to all beings.”


Banani Ray



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This is our first snow of the winter.  First forecast as rain, then as ‘a dusting,’ the  weather forecast is changing yet again.

As the storm intensifies and the temperature drops, now we are hearing that we may get a few inches of snow.  Nearly an inch has gathered in the grass now; and puddles on the patio, from our early morning rain, have begun to freeze over as snow landing there lingers in the slush.

Winter has finally blanketed our garden in penetrating cold.  It is the way of things, and a necessary passage of rest and dormancy before the coming of spring.


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My dad and I attended an opening at a local gallery in mid-December, and were interested in an eclectic collection of bird feeders made from re-purposed glassware.  We purchased a few as gifts.  And since then it has remained my intent to construct a few myself.

A trip last week to the Re-Store, with a good friend, yielded the odd bud vases and hollow ware needed.  And so on Friday, I constructed a few glass feeders by gluing the pieces together with a special glue made to hold glass and ceramics. 

I also made a batch of “Ron’s Suet Cakes” from the recipe the artist sent along to re-fill his glass ‘sculptural’ bird feeders.  This easy recipe is laced with Cayenne pepper to keep squirrels, and other rodents, away from the feeders.


Here is one of the feeders I constructed on Friday.

Here is one of the feeders I constructed on Friday.


Like many, we prefer to ‘feed the birds’ naturally through a garden planted with those berry and seed producing trees, shrubs, and perennials they prefer.  Knowing that song birds need a diet rich in insects, we expect this rich habitat provides them with an abundance of tasty insects, too.

But we also provide additional food to sustain our birds during winter storms.

And so this enriched ‘suet cake’ project has proven timely. 


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I’ll share Ron’s recipe so you can make a batch of this special winter bird feed yourself, if you are interested.  I was pleased with how quickly it set up.

After filling the three feeders I made on Friday, there was enough left to fill two small plastic cups to use as ‘re-fills’  for one of the original feeders my parents kept.  Thirty seconds in the microwave was enough to let me pour the mix easily from the plastic cup into their glass feeder yesterday.  I swished a little fresh birdseed in the plastic cup to clean it thoroughly, then piled that seed on top as an extra offering to their garden birds.


This feeder, made on Friday, will be shared with a friend.

This feeder, made on Friday, will be shared with a friend.  The vase sits over a dowel or a spike of some sort to hold it steady in the garden.  Additional seeds can be added to the saucer. 


This recipe yields about 4-5 cups:

1.5 cups of lard

Several good shakes of Cayenne pepper and an additional shake or two of red pepper flakes, if you have them

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1 cup plain cornmeal

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup birdseed mix

Any ‘extras’ you want to add, such as shelled sunflower seeds, dried insect larvae, Niger seed, etc.  I added about 1/2 cup of shelled sunflower seeds.


Melt the lard in a small pan on the stove over a medium heat.  Add the pepper as the lard melts so that it is well flavored.  Squirrels hate hot pepper and won’t eat seeds treated with Cayenne.

Turn off the heat, and add the peanut butter to the melted lard.  Stir as the peanut butter melts.  Finally, stir in the cornmeal, oats, and seeds.

Pour the mixture, before it sets up, into any glass, metal or plastic mold.  You can also use this mix to coat pine cones.  Attach a wire for hanging to the cone before coating it.

I like this recipe for winter feeding because of the fat content, which will help the birds survive the cold weather coming.  This is a neat alternative to feeders filled with dry seed, which often gets wet and mouldy after a hard rain.  It will also keep rodents away from the feeders, if that is a problem in your garden.


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Our first snow of the season came quietly, almost without warning, and has left the garden transformed.  So beautiful and cleansing, snow invites us to stop and take notice.  We break out of the routine to simply sit and watch it accumulate.  A magical winter light fills the garden, bouncing off each icy flake. 

Listening carefully, we can hear it falling, piling up softly but steadily on every leaf and branch. 


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Winter finally has arrived in our Forest Garden.

Woodland Gnome 2016




What’s There to Eat?

The morning dawned bright and frosty.  Our temperatures had plummeted into the 20s by sunset on Christmas Day.

The morning dawned bright and frosty. Our temperatures had plummeted into the 20s by sunset on Christmas Day.

The morning’s sunrise revealed a frost covered garden.  Our cardinals’ clicking and chirping drew me to the window.  The fat, scarlet, Papa cardinal was searching through a pot on the patio for something to eat.  His mate rooted through the leaves down on the slates looking for a morsel of breakfast.  Our birds came out with the sun, scouring the warmer sheltered patio for their morning meal.  I took pity on them, and braved the morning chill in pajamas to carry a scoop of bird feed round and sprinkle it on the patio where I could watch them feast.

I offered the birds a little birdseed on the patio early this morning.

I offered the birds a little seed on the patio early this morning.

We rarely put seed out for the birds.  Instead, we make sure there is abundant wild food in the garden to carry them through the winter.  We wait until a hard freeze and then feed the finches and cardinals from a sack of Niger seed.  But I haven’t hung one yet this year, and the cardinals chose to discuss the matter with me this morning.

A few Nandina berries remain in the front border.

A few Nandina berries remain in the front border.

As we’ve watched various families of birds come and go from the patio all day, it set me wondering what food is still available for them in the garden.  It was nearly 80 here only a few days ago, and we saw little flying gnats now and again.  Surely other insects come out on warmer days as a special winter treat for the birds.

When the temperature plummets, and the ground is frozen hard, it is harder for the wild birds to find their meal.  But the meal is still there, waiting for their exploration!

The round bed of Lantana, though frozen, is still the most popular daytime hang out for the birds.

Seed pods from summer's morning glories remain to feed winter's birds.

Seed pods from summer’s morning glories remain to feed winter’s birds.

Its dense thicket of branches provides plenty of cover for them as they hop about in search of seeds.  Today I found an abundance of seed pods left behind by the morning glory vines along with dried berries left from the summer’s Lantana.  Many different species fly in and out of this fast food establishment each day.

Hibiscus seed pods are open, and seeds ripe for the munching.

Hibiscus seed pods are open, and seeds ripe for the munching.

Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon seedpods, now dried and fully opened, still harbor many delicious seeds.  There is enough to feed our birds for many weeks to come on the many shrubs around the garden.

Nandina and holly berries glow brightly red in the borders.  For a while I thought the squirrels might steal all of these, but berries remain.

Holly berries

Holly berries

All of the red Dogwood berries went weeks ago, leaving only the buds for spring flowers on the naked branches.  The holly is evergreen, however, and the prickly leaves are a little harder for the squirrels to negotiate.  Plenty are left for winter’s hungry birds.

The Cedars have not put out as many blue berries as I’ve found other years.  I noticed when cutting greens for wreathes that just as the oaks have taken a break from producing their usually abundant acorns, so the cedar and juniper berries are more scarce this year.

Staghorn Sumac berries are a favorite for many species of wildlife.

Staghorn Sumac berries are a favorite for many species of wildlife.

Wild vines and grasses are still full of seed.  We found beautiful airy seed heads on the Autumn Clematis, ready for birds tiny enough to perch and feast on them.  The clematis on the patio still has its ripened puffy seed heads as well.  Perhaps this is what the cardinals found this morning?

Clematis seed heads, growing in the pots on our patio.

Clematis seed heads, growing in the pots on our patio.

Staghorn Sumac is rich with seeds as well.  Still colorful, their mahogany colored seeds cluster tightly at the tip of each branch, swaying in the winter wind.

Looking up, there are cones of all sizes and descriptions.  Our beautiful native white pines bear cones loaded with small, tasty seeds. Gumballs, open now, cling like tiny Christmas ornaments to every twig of the gum trees.

Trees, like this white pine, remain full of cones and pods, rich with seeds.

Trees, like this white pine, remain full of cones and pods, rich with seeds.

Food is literally everywhere!  And the garden is alive with the flutter of winged comings and goings from before dawn until after dusk.  They are all welcome here, and have plenty of spots to find shelter and build their nests.

Acorns on the beach near the Scotland Ferry dock.

Acorns on the beach near the Scotland Ferry dock.

Perhaps this winter I’ll start a bird list.  Not just a mental, conversational list; but a bona fide official list as hard core birders keep one.  Already today I’ve seen cardinals and tufted titmice; wrens, nuthatches, Canadian geese, a cormorant, a Bald Eagle, and a Great Blue Heron.  Others remained anonymous, just out of focus in the shrubs shadowing me as I walked around the garden.

Trumpet Vine produces large seed pods, full of seeds once its orange flowers fade in autumn.

Trumpet vine produces large seed pods, full of seeds once its orange flowers fade in autumn.

Food is even more important than usual in winter.  Having just feasted with family yesterday, and completed a solid month of baking for special occasions, I’m feeling rather food obsessed at the moment.  Cakes sit wrapped and ready for drop in guests during the week ahead.  Beautiful cheeses wait on the shelves of the fridge; beside a whole tub of Cinnamon and cardamon laced dough, waiting to be formed into loaves or sweet rolls and baked this week.

As soon as my mother unwrapped a wreath made entirely of  bird feed yesterday, she sent my sister out to hang it from a hook on the shed where she could watch the birds enjoy it from her kitchen window.  Our gifts of food, whether to man or bird, are welcome ones; especially in winter.  The wreath was literally covered with colorful little finches, wrens, titmice, and nuthatches all afternoon.

Black Eyed Susans, left standing in the border have gone to seed.  I'll cut them back in late winter.

Black Eyed Susans, left standing in the border have gone to seed. I’ll cut them back in late winter.

They are fun to watch, and I love drawing songbirds close to the windows in winter where we can appreciate their beauty.  I never want them to depend upon such charity for survival, however; and so limit when and how much these little gifts of seed are offered. 

Much better, I believe, to fill the garden with trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials whose seed will provide a steady supply of food all season long, and which will also attract and support the insects birds need in their diets throughout the year. 

And there are plenty here, in our forest garden.

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

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, 1712

Feathers in the high tide line on the beach at Jamestown.

Feathers in the high tide line on the beach at Jamestown.

All Photos By Woodland Gnome 2013

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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