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Birds can help with gardening chores this season

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –

This story first appeared online on Dec. 30, 2020.

OKLAHOMA CITY. – Gardeners who have been putting off doing their landscaping chores are getting a helping hand from birds.

David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist, said wild birds are grateful for the lack of upkeep.

“This is the time of year when tidy gardeners are raking leaves, removing dead plants from flowerbeds and doing a general cleanup,” Hillock said. “However, seed heads of coneflower, black-eyed Susan and other native wildflowers provide a smorgasbord for birds. In addition, native species of grasses make good forage after they go to seed.

“Letting other dead plants stick around can provide protein-packed snacks for birds in the form of insect larvae,” Hillock added.

Trisha Gedon, OSU Agricultural Communications Services, stated in a press release, “Gardeners can save themselves some sore muscles by letting leaves lie instead of raking. Fallen leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil. They also provide a place for bugs to gather and birds to forage.”

Gedon suggests for gardeners who simply can’t take a complete hands-off approach,they should consider composting only some of the leaves while leaving the remainder scattered across the landscape.

Hillock said other options include raking leaves into flower beds or mulching them to nourish the lawn. Fallen leaves also provide a habitat for lots of little critters such as salamanders, snails, worms and toads.

“The epic ice storm in October broke many tree limbs in the landscape. While large limbs do need to be taken care of, consider building a small brush pile that will shelter birds from bad weather and predators,” he said. “This brush pile also can serve as a home to rabbits and other small wildlife. These critters can be fun to watch through the window.”

“Messy is definitely good to provide food and shelter for birds during the cold winter months,” says Tod Winston, Audubon’s Plants for Birds program manager.

“If you’re digging in the garden and come upon these squirmy little coppery-brown dudes, and you don’t know what they are—those are moth pupae,” Winston said. A healthy layer of undisturbed soil and leaf litter means more moths, which in their caterpillar phase are a crucial food source for birds.”

While gardening enthusiasts take advantage of the break, they should consider visiting local nurseries for native shrubs and trees. Fall and early winter weather is more comfortable to work in than the overwhelming summer heat.

“When at the nursery, consider native dogwood, hawthorn, sumac and other flowering shrubs as additions to the landscape,” Hillock said. “They produce small fruits that not only feed the bird population during the cold months, but also provide a wonderful pop of color in the winter landscape.”

To find species suited to your yard, enter your ZIP code in Audubon’s native plants database.

“If you plant trees or shrubs this fall, they might not bear fruit this year—but come next winter, you and your backyard birds will be glad you did,” Winston said.

OSU Extension offers additional information regarding landscaping and gardening to attract birds on its website.