Designing Gardens Using Native Plants to Promote a Healthy Eco-System



Real Gardens Grow Natives

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Bugs over Bird Feeders

Although some birds are seed eaters, 96 percent of birds, excluding waterbirds, feed their young invertebrates. Those adorable little chickadees may dine on seeds from your feeder or plants during the winter, but come spring, Mr. and Mrs. Chickadee will be frantically searching for insects, their eggs and larvae, and other morsels, like spiders, to feed their rapidly growing babies. To attract and aid such birds and other creatures, we must first provide what they need to survive, and the best way to do that is with native plants, which supply drastically more insect biomass than nonnatives. The next time you see an unappealing insect, think “bird food”!

When you provide for birds naturally with native plants, there’s no need to worry about attracting rats and other undesirables, as bird feeders can, and there is little risk that food will become contaminated with pathogenic organisms such as salmonella, which, according to the National Wildlife Health Center, “is a common cause of bird mortality at feeders.”

Dangers of feeders

Salmonellosis can happen when feeders aren’t kept clean. Feeders also cause birds to congregate unnaturally in small areas, where sick birds may spread disease to others, creating epidemic conditions that can wipe out backyard bird populations. Even if birds become only temporarily ill, a sick bird is much more likely to be attacked by a predator. If you use feeders and notice lethargic, emaciated, or dead birds, remove the feeders for several weeks and clean up seeds and droppings below them. If you want to use bird feeders until your garden can supply natural food, follow practices that keep birds healthy.


• Fill feeders with just the amount of food that will be consumed in one day, lessening the chances that food will become contaminated or moldy. Discard damp, moldy food and replenish with fresh food daily.

• Once a week, clean feeders with a brush and hot, soapy water, rinse them thoroughly, and allow them to dry (in the sun, if possible). Dilute, 10 percent bleach solutions may be used (with a good rinse) every few weeks, but never on hummingbird feeders.

• For hummingbirds, choose real plant nectar over non-nutritious sugary solutions. If using feeders, change nectar weekly if the weather’s cool and the feeder is out of sunlight, but much more frequently if it receives sun or the temperature climbs above 65°F. Don’t assume that a nearly full feeder doesn’t need changing—deadly toxins can contaminate the solution in a short time.

Hummingbird feeders also should be cleaned with hot soapy water (no bleach) and rinsed well each time the food is replaced.

• Avoid using bird feeders with crevices, tubes, or rough surfaces that are difficult to clean. Anna’s hummingbirds need nectar to get them through cold winters. Keep food fresh and feeders clean.

• Put trays under feeders to collect fallen hulls and seeds and change feeder positions every few weeks, to help keep down pathogens that may develop on the ground below.

• If using multiple feeders, place them far apart to minimize crowding and contact.

• Keep feeding fairly consistent: Research shows that birds often return to the same feeding spots year after year.

• Hang feeders either very close to your windows (within 2 feet) or at least 30 feet away, to help prevent window strikes, and 10 feet from shrubs to prevent predation.


Other tips and tricks in creating your own earth-friendly eco-system are in the pages of Eileen M. Starks' Real Gardens Grow Natives: Design, Plant, And Enjoy A Healthy Northwest Garden


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