One of our members was exchanging bird sightings with me yesterday. Bitter weather brings out the animals at the feeders, and results vary in each location.
I understand that our feeding of birds has changed the habits of such birds as the blue jay and hummingbird, changing their winter locations and their populations.
Our winter has been mild, compared to the rest of the country. When people hear about Arkansas weather, the report normally does not treat our northwest tip of the state, once known for growing apples. Bad storms go north to Joplin, Missouri and south to Fort Smith and Little Rock. The upcoming ice storm will probably not reach us but stay south.
|Cardinals by Norma Boeckler|
Ice storms are the ultimate bird feeding opportunity. That is when God's feeders, the bark of trees and the tangle of bushes, get covered with ice. Bugs that overwinter are locked away, while birds need more food to stay alive and have less to burn the calories needed to survive. Squirrels feed all winter and become more frantic to get food too.
We are seeing most of the birds feeding on the ground, either cracked corn or sunflower seeds. That naturally attracts doves, but cardinals and blue jays are also in the mix now. The chickadees eat from the feeder near the window. Suet only seems to attract a downy woodpecker in the front yard. But I have new suet feeders from one reader (name withheld) to test that assumption.
|Borage can be eaten while gardening or brought in for salads.|
Bees call it Bee Bread.
Habitat for Creation
The ideal suburban landscape is rather dull. That consists of lawn, some bushes, and trees. For some, the ideal includes killing off weeds and raking up all trash. Grass clippings are hauled away, apparently to make room for the nitrogen sprayed or spread on the lawn. Leaves are gathered into big green bags to be picked up, and some communities compost leaves.
Step One - Let the creatures do the killing
Avoiding weed and bug killers is a new start for many people. Weeds are easily controlled and composted by mowing and mulching. Bugs are controlled by other bugs and by spiders. A poison-free organic feast will allow the beneficial creatures to assume a population supported by their food supply - the bad guys. A surge in bad guys will be met by an equivalent surge in beneficial creatures, whether ladybugs or parasitoid wasps, spiders, or preying mantids.
Step Two - Honor the yard trash
Soil creatures love garden trash, and birds love soil creatures. Mulched areas are good for the soil and great for the birds.
"There are no bad plants." OK, I can do without poison ivy. The rest are useful, one way or another. So-called weeds are simply plants known for their gusto in growing and their persistence in the face of deadly opposition.
I saw how hungry a bush and soil creatures could be when I began feeding the crepe myrtle, instead of raking the leaves out from under it. I added grass clippings, wood mulch, leaves, and more. The pile kept shrinking, so I added more leaves for the fall. I saw the difference already last summer when our bush out-performed the rest in the neighborhood and bloomed a second time after trimming and mulching the trimmings.
All our leaves are either mulched into the lawn (front yard), composted (backyard), or decomposing on layers of newspapers (backyard). The entire fence perimeter has Jackson Mulch instead of weeds.
Now the weeds are decomposed and feeding the soil and soil creatures.
|Butterfly Weed is food for the Monarch Butterfly.|
Step Three - Diversified Planting
After picking out my favorites to grow (roses, corn, tomatoes), I plant for the birds, bees, and bugs. They often overlap. Bee Balm is also a hummingbird favorite. Sunflowers favor bees and many other creatures, from grasshoppers (think porterhouse for birds) to squirrels.
Butterfly Weed is food for monarch butterflies.
Butterfly Bush is magical for butterflies and bees.
Wild Strawberry grows on its own. Extra watering helped it grow along the base of the house, with brilliant red berries for birds and squirrels to enjoy all summer. I plan on expanding its reach.
Borage is called Bee Bread, and its constant blue and pink flowers provide a steady food source. The big cousin is Comfrey, with lush green growth good for composting and mulch.
|Bee Balm is also a hummingbird plant.|