Weekly Express-News Article
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Saturday, February 24, 2007
“Cover and Water to Attract Migrating
San Antonio and South Texas are blessed with a large number of
resident birds that we can attract to our landscapes with plantings
and feeders. Beginning now and for the next three months we also
can attract migrants and wintering that are just moving through
on their way to nesting grounds in the north.
Some of the same landscape features that attract resident birds
will attract the migrating and wintering birds. Food plants, and
feeders can bring the migrants in for viewing, but two other important
features are cover and water.
Cover in simplest terms means thickets. Thickets of plant cover
provide nesting sites for birds, but also provide hiding places
and areas to search for insects, seeds, and birds. Every bird
species has a little different niche in the habitat varying from
rarely leaving the ground to rarely leaving the tree tops, but
in general the thicker and more diverse the cover, the more likely
that the migrating and wintering birds will visit your landscape.
Inventory your yard and neighborhood and attempt to fill any gap
in cover that occurs. Here are some good plants for thickets.
Select the ones that are attractive to you and will contribute
to your neighborhood’s appearance in addition to providing
cover for the birds.
Evergreens make good cover. The Arizona cypress is one of our
best choices in this category. The trees reach 25 feet tall on
most sites, are very thick, are pest-free, and have an attractive
conical shape. The foliage is a distinctive silver green. A single
Arizona cypress in the landscape will attract birds; three or
four will have major impact.
All of the thorny old-fashioned roses are good choices for your
landscape if you want an attractive plant and cover for the birds.
Just pick the size you need. A butterfly rose will bloom nine
months out of the year and grow to be 10 feet in diameter. Katie
Road (also called Carefree Beauty) has a more modest size, about
six feet tall and equally wide, blooms most of the year, has beautiful
pink blooms and even provides rose hips for feeding birds. For
a three feet by three feet thicket rose, select Martha Gonzales.
They have small blood red blooms nine months of the year.
There is a wide range of hollies that make outstanding thickets
and cover for birds. Again if it is birds that you have in mind,
select the hollies with sharp points on the tips of the leaves.
All of the hollies are outstanding landscape plants for shade
or sun. If you use hollies you can create a bird-friendly thicket
without it being recognized as such. Plant a cluster or even a
row. They are all so disciplined in growth habit that your “thicket”
resembles a formal planting. The hollies are drought-tolerant
after they are established and some even provide decorative berries
that are liked by the birds almost as much as pyracantha. My favorite
hollies are dwarf Chinese (3 feet), dwarf burford (6 feet), and
standard burford (8 feet).
During the next three months in addition to our resident and wintering
birds we have the opportunity to observe a large number of migrating
species. A key factor in the number of migrating birds you will
see is the thickness and diversity of plantings in your landscape
and neighborhood. Another way to increase your chances of attracting
more species of birds during migration this spring is to consider
a water source, preferably one with running water.
Many birds will stop to drink and bathe in a traditional bird
bath, but for real action consider some variations of the simple
theme of a shallow vessel mounted on a pedestal.
A cluster of bird baths better accommodate the flocking birds.
Four or five bird baths of different sizes and heights covered
with cedar waxwings is an impressive sight. With their waxy appearance
they are unreal appearing to begin with. The way they nod and
drink in unison adds to the surreal effect.
Running water is even more attractive to birds moving through
an area than a number of bird baths. Some nurseries and home improvement
stores offer drippers that release a “drip, drip, drip”
from a gooseneck copper tube above the bird bath. The apparatus
is easily connected to the bath and to a water connection. Even
high flying birds seem to notice and home in on the dripper. The
birds moving through your landscape certainly will.
The ultimate water source for birds is the recycling pond and
stream. It does not have to be large, but it needs moving water
and shallow area where the birds can bathe. This structure is
where you can expect maximum interest from indigo buntings, painted
buntings, orioles, wilson warblers, and other stars of the spring
For more information on attracting birds to your landscape, obtain
the SAWS Landscape Care Guide from your favorite nursery.
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