The Ultimate Garden

The Ultimate Garden

Part of Ep. 801 Landscaping for Birds

Join award winning photographer and nature writer George Harrison for tips on attracting birds to your own back yard.

Premiere date: Mar 04, 2000

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Birds have certain basic requirements and so do gardeners. The trick is trying to combine those requirements so we're all happy in the same back yard. My guest is George Harrison. He's an award-winning nature writer and photographer. He's hosted several programs on attracting birds to your own back yard. George, thank you for letting us join you today.

George:
Welcome. Glad you're here.

Shelley:
I have to start out with a general question. So many of us have a yard like this one, an open green lawn. Is this going to have to change a lot to become a habitat for birds?

George:
It will. In fact, Shelley, this is exactly what we had 20 years ago when we acquired our property, a lawn, a few trees, but not very many birds, I must say. So we had to do something about that. And by planting and allowing the vegetation to grow, we have converted this kind of a lawn into a mini woodland that has lots of birds. Let me show you.

Shelley:
Oh, I'd love to see it.

George:
You can see the difference here in the vegetation. This lawn versus the woodland.

Shelley:
George, I find it hard to believe this was all bare lawn. How big is your property?

George:
It's only a quarter of an acre, Shelley, 50 x 320 feet. So, it shows what you can do with a very small back yard.

Shelley:
Is this an old planting?

George:
No, no. Six or seven years ago, this was a mud hole. We put in this planting. It was good for birds immediately. Even though it looks very mature now, immediately it was good for birds because it provided the cover they needed at the various life zones.

Shelley:
So, we don't have to wait forever as gardeners to enjoy our birds.

George:
No, no.

Shelley:
Tell me about some of these ground covers. This Hosta is beautiful.

George:
What we have here is the Giant Blue Hosta. It's an excellent ground cover. It has a little bit of height off the ground. Pheasants and song sparrows, towhees, love this kinds of habitat because they can escape into it in case there's a predator, a hawk goes over or in case a cat appears on the scene. So, they feel very comfortable here.

Shelley:
So, they're actually creeping under it for shelter.

George:
Yes. And there's food under there, too, by the way.

Shelley:
Oh, okay.

George:
Natural food.

Shelley:
And the Impatiens are lovely. I assume those are for the benefit of the gardener.

George:
That's my favorite hummingbird plant, the New Guinea Impatiens, the red particularly is attractive. And the hummingbirds will visit that every 15 minutes during the summer.

Shelley:
So, they're actually feeding off of the flowers.

George:
They are. They're getting the nectar out of that.

Shelley:
I'm surprised in a way, because we are so close to your windows. I would expect the movement inside the house to be frightening the birds.

George:
No, to the contrary. They can't see us inside. And part of that is because is there's graduated coverage here. We have the ground cover closest to the windows. And then we have shrubs and small trees, and then the large trees behind. That's the plan. And in each one of these life zones we can expect to see different kinds of birds.

Shelley:
So, each layer of planting is a life zone. And the more layers we've got the more variety of birds we're going to have in our yard.

George:
Right.

Shelley:
This looks like Pachysandra.

George:
This is Pachysandra. And it's evergreen throughout the year. So, in the wintertime, birds like wild turkeys and pheasants come in here and they have this protection of the cover. And they come into our bird feeding stations quite frequently.

Shelley:
Well, we've talked about some of your favorite low-growing...

George:
I was just going to bring this up. This is my favorite shrub, a Highbush Cranberry. It's great. It has white flowers in the springtime and then a red berry, fruit, throughout the fall and winter for birds. And they love it. In addition to that, it's a great place for birds to nest, indigo buntings, goldfinches and catbirds will actually nest right in those shrubs.

Shelley:
So, it's multipurpose. It has food and shelter. As we look up into some of your higher layers, then, are there some that you really prefer that we should have in our yard?

George:
Yes, the larger trees here, this is Linden, right here, this very tall one; sugar maple over here and red oak in the background. And all three of those species not only provide the cover that's necessary for birds that frequent the high levels, but it also provides food in the form of seeds and nuts throughout the year. And we can expect to see orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks. And robins, of course, will nest up high, as well.

Shelley:
So, from a landscaping point of view, the trick here is to plant the low stuff closest to the house and then go up so that we can see of this that we've created.

George:
We can see it all at once and it attracts different types of birds to different life zones.

Shelley:
Okay, we've talked about shelter; we've talked about food. Are there other important requirements.

George:
Oh, yes. The third one is water. And I want you to see this pond over here. Water's important, Shelley, to attracting birds to the back yard for a number of reasons. Location is particularly important. You notice we're close to the house here. And this is one of our favorite viewing areas in the whole house, lots of birds out here.

Shelley:
Because of the water.

George:
Water is very important. Also, the depth of the water is important, too. A lot of people make mistakes of putting bird baths in that are too deep.

Shelley:
I thought a deep pond would work.

George:
You need shallow areas so the birds can stand in it and bath and drink and be comfortable. If it gets too deep, they won't use it.

Shelley:
So, they're not deep sea diving, they're mostly on the surface of it.

George:
That's exactly right. And the last thing is the sound. You notice you can hear the trickle. Moving water will attract birds from long distances. They can hear it from a long way-- And it acts like a magnet. The birds just come pouring in because it makes an interesting sound.

Shelley:
Well, that same sound is so attractive and soothing to us humans, too.

George:
It is.

Shelley:
George, thank you so much for sharing your yard with us.

George:
My pleasure.

Shelley:
Thanks. So, if you've got food, water and shelter, you can have a wildlife sanctuary in your own back yard.

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