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Monday, February 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Home and garden

In the Garden: Planting for the birds reaps many rewards

This young Calliope hummingbird sat on Bill Mulvihill’s finger many times this summer while sipping nectar from a small feeder. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
This young Calliope hummingbird sat on Bill Mulvihill’s finger many times this summer while sipping nectar from a small feeder. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)

This summer, my husband, Bill, and I have been treated to some delightful interactions with the birds in our garden. We’ve enticed hummingbirds to sit on our fingers while they sipped from tiny feeders and watched baby quail blissfully napping in the shade of the daylily patch.

We’ve listened to the whistling calls of a family of cedar waxwings and enjoyed the tunes of a male catbird as it ran through its repertoire of other birds’ calls.

None of this would have taken place if we hadn’t made our landscape attractive to birds over the years. When we first bought our 5-acre lot, the landscape consisted of a single, foot-tall ponderosa pine. My how things have changed.

While the wide-open spaces were somewhat appealing, we knew it wouldn’t make birds feel safe. Over time, we planted tall and short trees, native shrubs that produce berries or provide shelter and a range of annuals and perennials to provide either nectar for hummingbirds or seedheads for birds to feast on during the colder months.

This varied landscape offers places for them to duck into when a hawk flies through, roost in at night or opportunities for building a nest and raising a family. When we watch the birds living and/or feeding in our garden, it gives us a sense of satisfaction knowing we had a hand in this.

Bill and I once made a list of the birds we’ve seen here and stopped counting at 90 species. These include white-crowned and song sparrows, Western bluebirds, swallows, crossbills, robins, chickadees, Northern flickers, downy and hairy woodpeckers, wrens, juncos, California quail, goldfinches, grosbeaks, Cooper’s hawks and nuthatches.

Water features are another draw for birds since drinking and daily bathing are a necessity for good health. In addition to two birdbaths, we have a large pond with a waterfall (splashing water is a bird magnet) and a small pond.

When it comes to the food we put out for the birds, it mainly consists of black-oil sunflower seeds, suet, nectar for the hummingbirds and Nyjer thistle during the winter.

As I mentioned above, there are plenty of plants in our garden that also feed the birds. The berries on American cranberry bushes, serviceberries, snowberries, red Osier dogwoods, black currants and chokecherries are some of their favorites. All are native shrubs. The hummingbirds are more than happy to seek out nectar in the flowers of penstemon, bee balm, red hot poker, honeysuckle and annual salvia.

When it’s time for fall cleanup of the flower beds, I take a laid-back approach in favor of the birds by leaving seedheads for them. The seeds found inside are an important source of nutrition during fall and winter. I’ve noticed their favorites are bee balm, globe thistle, coneflower, sunflower, black-eyed Susan and Gloriosa daisy.

Another favorite of our bird friends is the seeds of lavender plants. There is nothing quite like walking past the lavender patch in the dead of winter, with snow piled high all around, and smelling the distinctly pleasant fragrance of lavender after the birds have nibbled on the seeds.

It’s not difficult to attract birds to your garden. By providing shelter from predators and the weather, trees and shrubs of varying heights for nesting, water for drinking and bathing and food sources, you will have made them feel welcome. Your reward will be watching them and knowing you’ve improved the environment surrounding your home.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video on

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