It's freezing cold today - below zero - and I see a couple little winged friends moving about, but that's it. I'm glad we filled the feeders yesterday. In winter it seems obvious to me why we're attracted to birds as gardeners. We can't be outside as much as we like, because in some ways there is less to do. Yes, I could review my garden plan from last year and work on next year's. I could go through the seed catalogs and choose things that are outside my garden plan and more than my garden can handle. (Happens every year. I might as well be honest about these things.) I can read gardening books.
While all of these are delightful, birds are a connection to the outdoors that I love and the space I work in when the weather is warmer. Other than the first green shoots of bulbs, birds are lively companions that help me enjoy winter, make me laugh with their antics, and offer a sense of wonder that such a small thing is able to survive what I find are bone-chilling temperatures.
Birds are relevant to the garden because they eat the pests that eat my flowers and vegetables. (I like to share, but I have my limits.) I picked up some interesting facts this morning from Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. "In an afternoon, one diminutive house wren can snatch up more than 500 insect eggs, beetles, and grubs...More than 60-percent of the chickadee's winter diet is aphid eggs."
So, not only are they snacking on pesky mosquitoes in summer, but in winter they're busy eating those aphids that gave my tomatoes the business this past summer. It seems like a feeder or two about the yard offering an extra snack, along with a little bit of water, is a fair trade.
Useful sites that talk about attracting birds to the backyard abound.
Helpful Gardner talks about gardening for birds and yourself, while About.com offers a some garden designs and other bird information for gardeners. Gardens Alive also offers some good tidbits for attracting birds to your garden.
Native plants (I like Wild Ones definition) are a good bet for attracting birds, too. The birds have evolved with the plants, and so they help pollinate, eat the fruit, and spread the seeds. I'm working on a perennial bed in my garden that incorporates native plants like bee balm and Joe Pye Weed with the iris and tansy. I've also started a small bed of natives outside the garden to attract bees, moths, butterflies, as well as birds to help my garden.
Audubon offers some great resources for learning more about native plants and attracting beneficials, as does Wild Ones. (Here's my confession: I'm a member of my local Wild Ones chapter, and a big advocate of native plants in general.)
Finally, after you get your feeders filled and out, and have added bird friendly plants to your backyard landscape, you can check out this bird map. Just click on the map and see what's happening in your region.