My Bird Yard

Birds, it must be admitted, are the most exciting and most deserving of the vertebrates; they are perhaps the best entrée into the study of natural history, and a very good wedge into conservation awareness.”
– Roger Tory Peterson

What a boring backyard!
What a boring backyard!

So just because I’m in sunny, beautiful Costa Rica adding 20-30 lifers daily and enjoying cold beers after a day in one of the most bio diverse countries in the world – just because of all of that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to post. Although I won’t be writing about  Costa Rica (just trying to rub your nose a bit in the fact that I’m here!), I still wanted to post something this week.

The opening quote by Roger Tory Peterson rings true with me. Birds are in fact the winged-vehicles that really peaked my interest in the natural world and remain the driving force in my quest for discovering and conserving that world. Before the birds, a tree was a tree and a shrub a shrub. As my interest in knowing birds increased, so did my interest in their habitat (not to mention butterflies, squirrels, bats, frogs, and basically every other natural thing on the planet). One major life change allowed me some first hand experience with some of the native plants of Wisconsin.

Last year, after 40+ years of resistance, I finally broke down and bought a house. As any good birder would do I set forth on a path to birdscape my yard weeks before the closing date. After moving in during mid-June, I spent July thru November building, yes literally building, habitat to attract the birds. For those days I can’t get out and do some dedicated birding, I can at least look out the windows or sit on my patio and let my little feathered-friends come to me. All told, here is an overview of what I planted, moved, and built:

  • 17 shrubs; 6 different species
  • 3 trees
  • 6 flower species
  • a bunch of ferns
  • 1 tree relocated
  • 1 brush pile created
  • 1 pond created

Being obsessive about birds means I’m obsessive about providing them with good habitat now that I’m a home owner. Said another way, I can be very detail oriented when I’m really excited about a project and this was a project I was excited for. I started by measuring out the current backyard and creating a to-scale grid map so I could design a game plan for what I wanted to accomplish (see obsessive!). The idea for the yard map as well as what specific plants to consider came from two sources: 1. Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club (NWBC) member Neil who has decades of experience birdscaping and one of the coolest, most bird-friendly yards I’ve ever been in and 2. a book Neil recommended: Birdscaping in the Midwest : A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak. lf you’re in the Midwest and don’t have a Neil in your local area, I highly recommend this book.

The start of my backyard blueprint. Although I didn't follow it exactly, it did give me an idea of how I wanted to layout my yard and also how much actual space I would have between plantings.
The start of my backyard blueprint. Although I didn’t follow it exactly, it did give me an idea of how I wanted to layout my yard and also how much actual space I would have between plantings.

As you can tell from the photo at the top and the map I created, besides the two spruce trees, flower bed, 18 Arborvitae along the back property line, and the Tannenbaum Mugo Pine, the yard was basically open. I decided to plant hedgerows on both sides of my property to provide cover and food for the birds and some privacy for myself.

A before and after - in the bottom picture you can see the hedgerow created by 4 Arrowwood Viburnum and a Chokeberry. The small bush in the center is my Serviceberry Bush.
A before and after – in the bottom picture you can see the hedgerow created by the 4 Arrowwood Viburnum and a Chokeberry located next to my planned hummingbird/butterfly garden. The small bush in the center is my Serviceberry Bush.

The Arrowwood Viburnum above should grow to 10-12 feet and provide a nice natural privacy screen from my neighbors. All three species here (Viburnum, Serviceberry, and Chokeberry) provide an excellent food source in berries for the birds in our state.

Before
Before
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After (the beginning). Two Chokeberry plants in ground anchoring the end of the hedgerow. Three Red Osier Dogwoods courtesy of NWBC members Todd & Cindy.
The hedgerow - 5 Nannyberry Viburnums, 3 Red Osier Dogwoods, and 2 Chokeberries. Cockspur Hawthorn is the tree on left and
The hedgerow – 5 Nannyberry Viburnums, 3 Red Osier Dogwoods, and 2 Chokeberries. Cockspur Hawthorn is the tree on left and center is a Mountain Ash.

The Nannyberry Viburnums on this side will grow 12-14 feet and along with the dogwoods and chokeberries, will provide berries and cover for the birds. Although it’s not in this photo, the small pine in the left corner was replaced with a Pagoda Dogwood. The Pagoda Dogwood and Cockspur Hawthorn will eventually block the neighbors white shed and house from view. The Mountain Ash near the patio will provide some shade and  should attract some woodpeckers.

I also got ambitious enough to put in a small pond. I found a 3 ft x 2 ft cement mixer tub at a hardware store for $12 and buried it ground level. I ran an underground electrical cable to it, put in a pump, and added some rocks. Not the fanciest pond, but the birds don’t mind. The photo below was taken when I first set it up. It looks much more natural now after I had time to rearrange the rocks.

The pond. It looks much better after I fully buried the cable and re-did the rocks to give it more of a natural look.
The pond. It looks much better after I fully buried the cable and re-did the rocks to give it more of a natural look.
IMG_20140929_180811439
View of the pond and two feeder stations. In-between the two large spruces is a brush pile and the Serviceberry Tree (near the fire pit). The Serviceberry should grow tall enough to block the view between the spruces.

Last, but certainly not least, I started converting (i.e. weeding) the flower bed in order to turn it into a hummingbird/butterfly garden. Last year I had a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming to my feeder in the garden for about a month. Along with the hummingbirds I also had Monarch and Eastern Swallowtail Butterflies in the yard.

Hummingbird/butterfly garden. Only got about half of it weeded and planted, but plan to finish it off this year.
Hummingbird/butterfly garden. Only got about half of it weeded and planted, but plan to finish it off this year.

Included in the garden: Purple Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Coreopsis, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed, and Lily.

Although I don’t have pictures, I completed the hedgerows in October and November by laying cardboard and newspaper between the shrubs and then layering it with 2-3″ of mulch. One aspect of the plantings I never thought about ahead of time was all the watering. By the time I put the 17 shrubs and 3 trees in the ground, I was watering each plant for 10 minutes, twice a week. So I didn’t have to move the garden hose every 10 minutes for 3+ hours each time I watered, I tried to water a few plants each day. In theory that was good, but after a big rain all the plants would be back on the same schedule.

Looking back, birdscaping my yard was another step down the naturalists pathway. Its introduced me to a number of plants and flowers which I wasn’t familiar with and I’m much more cognizant of habitat when I’m out birding (I want to know what each tree, shrub, and flower is). Planting everything was a lot work (yes, I did it all by hand), but it was really rewarding to sit outside and listen to the water from the pond and look at the habitat that I’ve provided. I’m excited to see things bloom this year, grow, and watch my yard – and yard bird list – grow over the coming years. I’ll have pictures this spring and summer as things develop and look forward to writing about the natural beauty these plants will provide.

From the beautifully diverse Costa Rica, Bird It Up!

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2 thoughts on “My Bird Yard”

  1. Sounds beautiful!! I agree that birding leads to a love of all nature! Im always thinking about when I can get out next and explore nature! It is good for the soul for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

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