Deb Babcock: Gardening for the birds

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

If you’ve ever seen the mating dance of the male prairie chicken, you’ve witnessed one of the most spectacular displays of male posturing in the bird species. He struts, spreads his tail feathers, hoots and puffs up a bright red sac in his neck as he attempts to woo females. The woods and sagebrush meadows of the Steamboat Springs area are host to numerous leks, or mating areas, for this entertaining bird. In all, Colorado is a nesting ground for close to 300 species of birds thanks to the variety of habitats found within our state.

Many gardeners design their home landscapes specifically to attract certain birds. This is accomplished through plantings as well as birdhouses, birdfeeders and sources of water. At my home, we’ve left most of the landscape as it naturally was when we built here — full of scrub oak, serviceberry, sagebrush and prairie grasses so loved by the prairie chickens that visit us throughout the year.

In general, the larger the variety of plantings and structures you offer in your landscape, the larger the variety of birds you will attract.

Robins, house wrens, mourning doves, blue jays, cardinals and gold finches love shrubs and scattered trees while scarlet tanagers, nuthatches, grosbeaks and flickers like a landscape of dense trees. Chickadees visit our area throughout the winter constantly flying between shrubs such as serviceberry and birdfeeders.

If you enjoy ground-nesting birds, plant low branching shrubs near your grassy areas. Songbirds love evergreens such as spruce (Picea), arborvitae (Thuja) and junipers as well as the common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and serviceberry (Amelanchier), all of which grow well here in the Yampa Valley.

More than 70 species of birds enjoy the berries of the chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) while robins and waxwings like the mountainash (Sorbus sp.). Silver buffaloberry (Shepoherdia argentea) and several species of Viburnum are handsome landscape plants as well as attractive to many species of birds. For a low, dry area, plant sand cherry (Prunus pumila), which is a beautiful plant as well as a bird attractor.

Many flowering plants such as sunflowers, coneflowers, cosmos, black-eyed Susans and zinnias also are a source of food for birds as well as bees and butterflies.

Artificial nest boxes or birdhouses are other ways to attract nesting birds to your garden. Be sure to locate these homes high above the ground and near the cover of trees or shrubs. And to avoid harming birds attracted to your structures, disinfect your feeders, birdbaths and other structures thoroughly and often.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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