Troutman Garden Club looking out for the birds
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Kim Brand from Audubon NC joined a packed room of Troutman Garden Club members and guests at Lake Norman State Park last week to share information about how to make their landscaping and gardens more bird-friendly.
Club president Norma Lee welcomed Brand, who told attendees, “We need your yards loaded with native plants.” She hoped the presentation would spark them to find five or six plants to add to their properties.
“Our mission is to protect birds and the places they need. Birds are really good at telling us the places that are important and also helping us see what environmental problems that we need to address for the birds and for all of us as well,” Brand added.
Choosing plants that naturally occur will provide both resident and migratory birds the food and shelter that they need year-round, especially as they must adapt and survive to changes in climate.
Brand shared photos of gardens in Matthews and at the Charlotte Nature museum, noting that “birds need urban spaces just like they need suburban spaces. They also need state parks with vast forested areas.”
Signs to announce folks’ “Plants for Birds” gardens are also available on the Audubon website to encourage neighbors to get involved in creating bird friendly communities.
First Lady Kristin Cooper is an avid bird lover and recently helped with a bird and butterfly friendly backyard garden area in Raleigh. She led the effort with the Audubon group to create a garden at the governor’s western residence in Asheville as well as a more formal garden at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh.
Brand loves how birds connect people to places far away in their migration journeys, noting that one tagged bird had wintered in Belize and then returned to the area.
Brand urged the group to focus their gardens to support the four different food groups for birds: berries and fruits, insects, nuts and seeds, and nectar.
Birds feas on insects throughout the summer, but as fall comes, Brand says they shift their attention to berries. She urged folks to add plants with various sizes of berries for different types of birds.
Many shrubs and small trees provide berries that ripen at different times, so she suggested including cherry for birds during the breeding season and summer, dogwood and spicebush for songbirds flying south in the fall, and cedar and holly trees to feed birds through cold winters. The area’s beloved blue birds are particularly fond of berries.
Sine blueberries, native to North Carolina, are a special favorite for avians, so Brand advised planting a large number of bushes and covering most with protective netting while leaving some for the birds to enjoy too. “They’re a great source of quick energy” during breeding season.
Black cherry trees, though not the most attractive yard ornament, will also draw many bird species. Brand suggested planting these on woodland edges of the property.
The red American Beauty Berry is a great choice for this area, as is the spice bush, which produces berries that are 50 percent fat. The bush has yellow flowers in spring and then puts on the berries in the fall.
“The song birds have to double their body weight and fat to get 1500 miles south for the winter, so this is a plant they will be looking for. The woodthrush will fly up to 300 miles per night,” Brand added.
Native dogwoods are also wonderful for migrating birds since their berries are about 25 percent fat.
Winterberries are great for birds that stay through through the winter. “This is an amazing plant for birds.” She also suggested eastern red cedars and wax myrtles because they provide food for birds that winter here, including the yellow-rumped warbler.
N.C. native trees such as oaks, willows, birches, and maples, and native plants such as goldenrod and milkweed host many caterpillar species that provide vital source of protein for birds, especially during the breeding season.
Insects are important to birds like the Carolina chickadee, which only has two weeks to grow and develop feathers before it must leave the nest. “It takes a ton of protein to grow and get all those feathers,” said Brand, who noted the bird parents must gather about 9,000 caterpillars for a nest of chicks in those two weeks.
A native oak tree will host 550 butterfly and moth species, while a non-native ginkgo tree only hosts 5, thus demonstrating the importance of using native plants and trees. “That is really our best illustration of why it is important to seek out plants that are native to North Carolina if your goal is to support birds and other wildlife in your yard,” added Brand.
The top ten N.C. trees to support baby birds are oak, willow, cherry, birch, crabapple, blueberry, maple, pine, hickory and hawthorn.
Nuts and seeds
Trees such as oaks and walnuts provide fat and protein rich food that birds hide, or "cache," to provide food through the cold winter. Native pines and asters also produce loads of tiny seeds that are finch and sparrow favorites.
Blue jays are obsessed with acorns, carrying as many as five at once to their late fall and winter stash, which can number up to 5,000 nuts, according to Brand.
The white-throated sparrow, which sings here all winter long, survives on seeds. Brand asked that folks resist deadheading their Black-eyed Susans, threadleaf coreopsis, goldenrod, asters, and switchgrass to provide natural bird feeders throughout the cold season.
Red tubular flowers such as the trumpet serve up nectar for hummingbirds. Red varieties of asters, coneflowers, and Joe-Pye Weed are very attractive to insect pollinators like butterflies, moths and bees, in addition to providing seeds for birds.
Brand said that the best plant for hummingbirds is coral honeysuckle, which can be planted in containers, on trellises and in gardens. Unlike the white honeysuckle, this variety will not take over everything.
Other N.C. nectar species are wild columbine, eastern blue phlox, flame azaleas, trumpet vines (an aggressive plant), dwarf crested iris, crossvine and butterfly milkweed.
The cardinal flower, which grows in wet and moderately dry areas, is also important to the hummingbirds. Its sheer bright red color blooms in early fall as they start to migrate.
NATIVE PLANT DATABASE
Brand highly recommends using the Audubon native plant database (https://www.audubon.org/native-plants) to find the best bird-friendly varieties for any area. Users can plug in their ZIP code to find suggestions and even get a list of local nurseries and providers from which to purchase them.
She also urged folks to get involved with the Mecklenburg Audubon Society, which sponsors several bird walks each week. The group loves to work with beginners and teach them about birds and their habitats.
FEEDING THE BIRDS
Brand said that the Audubon Society suggests keeping clean bird feeders full all year, not just in the cooler months. She also said that keeping hummingbird feeders out all year, changing the nectar two or three times per week in warm months and once a week in cooler months, is also a positive for these feathered friends.
She also recommended leaving suet out anywhere in the yard to attract different kinds of birds. Bird lovers can also smear peanut butter on tree bark and then sprinkle on seeds to attract them.
To combat squirrel invaders, Brand said that some gardeners use the Squirrel Buster brand to save the food for the feathered wildlife instead.
EVENT PHOTOS: Debbie Page
BIRD PHOTOS: Will Stuart