High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

Making Your Backyard a Birding Mecca

Persimmon tree

People come from all over because Cape May is a bird mecca!  A great location on the migration paths as well as lots of natural food and cover draw the birds as well as the bird watchers. Often rare birds are sighted as they move through Cape May Point. There are song birds as well as raptors of all kinds. There are water fowl and many other migrants that make bird watching very exciting.

Do you have birds gobbling up seeds and insect pests in your garden? If not, you should consider adding a bird feeder and planning to plant some bird friendly plants this spring. Birds are fun to watch as they add color, movement and song to the garden and they eat harmful insect eggs and larvae.

As natural food becomes more and more scarce in late winter, birds are more apt to take advantage of feeders. Americans are avid birders, feeding the birds year round. This pastime is more than just amusement; it is beneficial for your garden because birds eat harmful insects and pests in addition to weeds and leftover flower seeds. As they snack on the seeds we put out, they also clean-up the lawn and garden for spring. I love to watch the woodpeckers on the dead trees around our property.

Blueberries provide low ground cover and berries

If your attempts at feeding are not quite as successful as you would like, you might evaluate your feeding sites.  Is there nearby cover? I find that most of the birds that come to my feeders first sit in the red cedar, holly or spruce trees that naturally line our yard.  They not only eat the berries, or pull the seeds from cones, but also find shelter from predators among the prickly greens and protection from rain and snow beneath their cover.

If your yard is bare and the feeder sits out far from any trees or evergreens, you must remedy the situation by planting some tall ornamental grasses, fruit bearing shrubs, trees and evergreens as a screen behind the feeders.


Make your first planting of the season an evergreen backdrop for the birds. Sometimes you can find balled and burlaped evergreens left from the Christmas season. Plant a spruce, a fir, a pine or a native cedar. This permanent cover set within the distance to the feeding area will insure a holding area for hungry but insecure birds on their way to your feeder.

All evergreens are a important for wildlife – providing both food and shelter, but the cedar is a very valuable native that should be protected more and planted in residential a well as public landscapes. It is a plant that demands nothing of the environment and gives much back. Cedars are not always sitting in nurseries, but we often dig them in our fields for special orders. Watch for them in and among borders as birds often drop the seeds and they grow naturally. We have several very nice specimens that were here in our woodland setting when we built our house more than 40 years ago. There are gardens of shade tolerant plants under them and bird feeders near them. I am so glad these cedars were left to grow in all their glory.

Rusa rugosa (large orange rose hips) are taller shrubs with berries

Plants to plan on for attracting birds to your garden

  • Ornamental grasses provide both quick cover and food for many varieties of birds.
  • Low plants for ground cover include bearberry for dry shade, cotoneaster, cranberry, lowbush blueberry  and spreading junipers.
  • Other taller shrubs that have berries such as Pyracantha, bayberry, choke cherry, Rosa rugosa (large orange rose hips), raspberry, black berry, nandina, clethra and fruiting vines.
  • Taller trees include hollies, cedar, dogwood, Amelanchier (shad blow), fruit, nut and berry trees that birds like for both food and shelter.
  • The dogwood is usually at the top of the list with birds visiting them in the fall. Because of these numerous red berries in autumn, the dogwood is said to be a very good wild life tree. Many songbirds devour the pretty red fruits, cedar waxwings can often be seen visiting them in fall especially when they are near the cedar trees like in my garden. These flocks also eat the black fruit of the sour gum in fall and the dried frozen persimmon in February.

Rosa rugosa berries

As I look out my front window now I see towering pines, then many hollies, dogwood, cedar, gum and sassafras. There are various shrubs next, several with fruits and berries.  The birds are everywhere, many making their way to the feeders close to the house. Jays, mockingbirds, and cardinals are all eating the numerous kinds of berries. The robins are here and beginning to strip the berries from the holly. There are still berries on my favorite nandina shrubs, but the birds will soon eat them. For some reason they are the last that they eat. We enjoyed watching chick-a-dee pulling the seeds from white pines a while ago.

There are many good books and lists that can provide homeowners with detailed information. Email me at Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for more information on planting a bird watcher’s garden. Also contact the National Wildlife Federation in Washington DC for their packet for homeowners. We were among the first 100 to register our property as a wildlife habitat way back in the  1970’s . Their publications have good ideas on making a garden for the birds.  We have been working at this since 1970’s and see the many benefits of planting for wildlife.

Join me to learn how to make your yard a bird and butterfly mecca. On March 13 see bird plantings in our display gardens at our winter interest plant talk Taste delicious homemade soup after the program. Please RSVP.  There will be a Workshop for Planting Native Plant for birds, a lecture, and walk on April 10 at 1:30. Sign up soon. 856-694-4272 for details.