Growings On: Backyard tips for birds and butterflies | Lifestyles


Georgia Green Landscape Stewards is a recent program developed by University of Georgia (UGA) Extension to offer homeowners a self-certification process to identify their properties for contributions toward environmental stewardship. Certified landscapes can choose to install a sign displaying the Georgia Green brand.

The program promotes protecting natural resources, increasing plant and animal biodiversity, conserving soil and water, providing wildlife and pollinator habitat, and improving public and environmental health. After learning about sustainable land management practices, participants can measure their activities with the program metric scorecard and earn certification status for their landscape.

Along with the satisfaction of contributing to natural resource protection, Georgia Green Landscape certification includes an option for participants to purchase an attractive yard sign to designate their property as a sustainably-managed Georgia landscape. This program encourages Georgians to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices and consider how their land use activities can complement the natural world.

Two recently updated UGA Extension publications provide advice to enhance environmental stewardship of home landscapes. Extension Circular 976, “Attracting Birds to Your Backyard,” offers guidelines about the nature of habitat that is favorable for birds.

Birds can be exciting to watch and can enhance the backyard landscape with their beauty and diversity. The ability to attract and hold birds in your home landscape can be enhanced by providing three main ingredients: food, shelter/nesting and water. By providing any or all of these three essential elements you can enjoy the peaceful pastime of watching more birds in your backyard.

Ornamental trees and shrubs can supply the necessary cover (shelter) and nesting areas. Many ornamental plants can satisfy more than one habitat requirement. For example, multi-stem plants that form a dense canopy will satisfy the need for a nesting place and also provide cover.

As much as possible, trees and shrubs in your yard should provide birds a year-round food source. The use of native trees and shrubs will help ensure that appropriate fruits and berries are available for the local bird population. If the landscape does not supply food during certain periods, you can supplement with commercial bird seed mixes to help keep birds in the vicinity of your yard. Some birds eat a wide variety of seeds while others prefer only one or two types; However, sunflower seeds, proso millet seeds and peanut kernels appeal to the majority of birds.

If they are to become long-term residents, birds require a place of cover or shelter to protect them from inclement weather (sun, heat, wind and rain) and natural predators. This is why birds prefer multi-stem plants that form a dense canopy.

The dense canopy also provides an ideal environment for nesting. Since birds require shelter year-round, your yard should have a mix of deciduous (loses leaves in winter) and evergreen plants. Evergreen plants include broadleaf evergreens, such as holly, and conifers, such as red cedar. Several references suggest that at least 25% of the trees and shrubs should be evergreen.

A source of fresh water is also necessary to maintain your bird population. The water source should be shallow (no more than 2 to 3 inches deep) and replaced on a regular basis. Running water, such as a shallow fountain, is ideal. The water source should be elevated or in the middle of an open area to minimize predation by cats and other animals. Birds require water year-round, so it is important to keep it available, even during the winter months.

The publication contains a table listing trees and shrubs that can be included in the landscape to attract birds. Attributes classified for each plant are habitat element provided, fruiting season, deciduous or evergreen and mature size.

The second updated publication, UGA Extension Circular 975, “Environmental Enhancement with Ornamentals: Butterfly Gardening,” details similar information about habitat enhancement, but with an emphasis on features that will attract butterflies.

Butterfly populations can be greatly enhanced by devoting a portion of the landscape to butterfly habitat.

In addition to their natural beauty, butterflies serve as valuable plant pollinators. The three necessary ingredients to attract and maintain butterfly populations all summer are nectar-producing plants, larval food plants and a shallow pool of water.

This circular includes a table listing trees and shrubs, wildflowers and perennials, and flowering annuals that are good butterfly-attracting plants.

Both publications are freely available and may be found on the UGA Extension Publications website by searching for the title or the circular number.

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