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Planting bird niches

This post is the first in an occasional series about birds and providing bird habitat where you live. You might have a 1950s middle-class yard, a community garden plot, a balcony or stoop, or a street tree lawn in front of your dwelling. The information will generally reflect the fact that I live in a suburban city with a limited yard and a front stoop.

Several years ago I wrote a research essay about species diversity and abundance along the urbanization gradient. Although I've been interested in birds for many years (I was involved with the design of the Ivy Narrow Bird Sanctuary in New Haven, Connecticut), I am an amateur birder. I am green in more ways than one! Our yard space, though quite limited, hosts several bird species, of which I can definitively identify Anna's hummingbird and blue jay. The birds primarily congregate in the southeast area of the yard which is planted with trees and shrubs. This is also where our table and living room are located; great viewing areas. The southwest and northwest portions of the yard are planted with ground cover, annual veggies, and perennial herbs or lo vegetation. If ground cover and low canopy plants were added to the southeastern face of the apartment, that area of the yard would provide "a niche for every bird" (Sally Roth in Bird-by-Bird Gardening).

Sally Roth argues that knowledge of bird families is critical in providing food and habitat for birds. There are eaters of small insect with small, sharp bills; eaters of wood-boring insects with strong, pointed bills; long, curved bill birds; seed eaters with wide, short beaks; and eaters of small seeds. Where would one look for insect eating birds? Well, where the insects are: on foliage, under the bark, or on the ground. There are also fruit and berry eaters, nectar or sap suckers as well as fish or frog eaters (like herons), snake eating birds like hawks, snail eaters like thrushes, eaters of small animals (ex: mice), and worm eaters including robins.

I have constructed the chart below based on summary information provided in Bird-by-Bird Gardening. Use the information to inventory the vegetation types currently growing around your dwelling.

Bird Bill Food
chisel-like with flattened tip
insects within wood and underneath bark

Bluebird, robin,
other thrushes
soft, thin caterpillars, other soft-bodied insects (present in the soil, under rocks and fallen leaves)

Wood warbler, kinglet, bushtit
very small, pointed
small insects from tree-top or shrub foliage

Cardinal, other grosbeaks
big, heavy
hard-shelled seeds

(Native) sparrow, otherfinches
smaller version of cardinal's bill small seeds among grasses and weeds

Jay, crow
multipurpose varied diet


Anonymous said…
How convenient for me that you are starting a birds series, as I would really like to start learning more about them. Sometimes I look out in the back yard and there are 20 or so small birds pecking away, and I think it must be seeds as I don't have an abundance of caterpillars and worms. Just looked at your book selection, and I am really excited about checking out the "Shorebird Guide."