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Originally published May 3, 2014 at 8:01 PM | Page modified May 17, 2014 at 11:21 AM

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Singing praise for birds as a garden’s best pest control

There is no better way to ensure your organic garden is pest-free than to make your yard irresistible to our avian friends.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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Birds are the Godzillas of your garden. At least that’s how an inchworm sees a sparrow as she swoops down to gobble it up and carry it to her nestlings.

We don’t usually think of songbirds as predators, yet they are ferocious insect eaters. And there’s a huge payoff when you encourage birds to come into your yard.

There is no better way to ensure your organic garden is pest-free than to make your yard irresistible to our avian friends.

Birds flit around the plants and flowers seeking out their favorite prey, such as beetles, aphids and hornworms. The more bugs they consume, the less trouble you’ll have.

Winter food

To lure birds to your yard, begin in the offseason. If birds discover a reliable location for seeds or suet in the winter, they’ll remember those food sources year-round. In the spring, gradually cut back your seed offerings so birds will turn to their richest protein source: bugs. Just remember to start feeding them again around Thanksgiving.

Water

While birds flock to water no matter where they live, in dry regions it’s an enormous lure. This year with epic drought in the west, water is far more attractive and beneficial than usual. When all the natural sources dry up, your birdbath becomes a vital resource for survival.

When creating water for birds, consider providing more than one location. Birds that spend most of their time on the ground flock may prefer their water there. Other birds prefer elevated birdbaths, which provide more protection from pets and predators. When you offer both, the range of bird species will increase exponentially.

Nesting

Birds thrive in landscapes where there are plenty of opportunities for nesting. When birds are reproducing in your yard, they’re going to stay closer to the nest in their food sourcing, which will include your veggie garden.

When a mother bird is feeding her young, she becomes a real Godzilla, hunting enough food for the entire family. With different kinds of trees and shrubs in your yard, birds are more likely to find a good nesting spot in the branches. They most often choose brushy places or thickets, where the nest and their perches are protected from the weather and predators by dense or thorny vegetation.

Birdhouses

A nesting box may look like a birdhouse, but these are specific boxes designed for the needs of each species of bird. Attach them to your tree branches or the eaves of buildings to bring a wider range of species including predators like owls that help control field mice and gophers.

A barn owl will consume one rodent a day, but when feeding the chicks she’ll need even more. Learn how to create, position and manage nesting boxes that suit local species at NestWatch.org.

Food

During the growing season and through the end of fall, birds are heavy consumers of seeds and fruit. Plants that produce berries are at the top of the list.

Elderberry, crabapple, wild-seed plum and currants are examples of long-lived woody plants that produce a crop of fruit every year. Birds remember where these rich food sources are located, and will return year after year.



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