Foam Lake Birding No. 86

No. 86
Will the rain never stop? It seems that the sun barely comes up before we are deluged again. Shades of the mid 1950s. The constant rains are not good news for farmers but the grass, trees and shrubs are luxuriant. The birds, especially waterfowl, are thriving.
This week I will finally finish the last article on attracting birds to our yards. As much as food and water can and do attract birds, appropriate plantings of grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees can dramatically increase the numbers of birds visiting one's yard. If and when the decision is made to attract birds with plants then three basic questions have to be considered: how many plants, what kinds of plants and where should they be planted.
Also, two different kinds of yards have to be taken into consideration - farm and urban. What works for one will work for the other with one major difference - farms are bigger. Farm yards have a more or less unlimited area whereas town yards are quite restricted. A farmstead built on an open field and then surrounded by a perimeter of trees does provide shelter but does not really attract wildlife to any degree. Farm yards with a few acres of natural bush, enhanced by plantings, near buildings really shine. This arrangement attracts not only more birds, but a greater variety of species that would not normally be seen otherwise. In urban areas space is limited and plants have to be chosen carefully.
How many plants should one plant? There is no magic number, but most yards could easily sustain more plants than they usually do. It does take more work, though. Large expanses of lawn studded with a few large trees have a lot of appeal to humans but offer very little for birds. Gardens, including fields, are a little better than lawns but not much. Something else is needed.
Because of our history of European immigration, many of our decorative plants such a lilac, carragana, cotoneaster and Siberian Elm are imports. Native species were not only ignored but removed and replaced with the foreign ones. However, many of our small native fruit trees such as chokecherry, pincherry, saskatoon, hawthorne and highbush cranberry are not only as attractive as the foreign ones but provide nesting sites and food for birds (and man) as well. In Europe, forests have much less undergrowth than the forests in the Americas, and this "ideal" has been carried over from Europe to the new world where it has stuck and stubbornly refused to die. To this day most people treat underbrush as weeds and eliminate it whenever possible preferring large show trees with little or no undergrowth. Incidentally, the word "underbrush" was coined in the new world to describe something that did not exist in the old world - dense undergrowth. In addition to woody plants, domesticated varieties of annuals, perennials and grasses should be included in one's yard plans.
How does one achieve this? It is completely unrealistic to expect somebody to cover the whole yard with trees and brush without gardens and lawns. Birds and people have to coexist; lawns will be maintained and gardens will be planted. However, around the outside edges of yards and along buildings there usually are so called 'dead spots". Small fruit bearing trees and shrubs, such as currants, can be planted here. If at all possible, shrubbery should be planted as thickly as possible to form thickets which our North American birds must have if they are to breed. Examples of a few such birds are Cedar Waxwings, sparrows, warblers and wrens.
To cover a topic of this nature thoroughly would require a small magazine, so this article has been an overview only. For a more thorough discussion check with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and related organizations.
This week's photos are of a robin eating overwintering chokecherries this spring and of a pair of Pine Siskins feeding on Joe Pye Weed (domesticated milkweed) and domestic thistle last August. If nothing else, they do make nice pictures.