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For the Birds

By Paul James

The number of birds in the United States has declined by nearly 30% in the last 50 years. That’s a startling statistic, for sure, and contributing factors include habitat loss and pesticide use. But consider this: outdoor cats kill roughly 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. every year! So anyway you slice it, it’s tough being a bird. It’s also hard to imagine life without them.  

Despite those disturbing statistics, I’m fortunate to have a yard full of birds — from at least 24 different genera and 31 species at last count. The newest arrivals include a nesting pair of brown thrashers in a dense Burford Holly next to my patio. Thrashers mimic other bird songs much like mockingbirds, but they have a more extensive repertoire, with over 2,000 tunes in their catalog. And they sing their beautiful arias morning and evening.

A pair — soon to be a family — of cardinals are nesting in a large, dense yew about 20 feet away. The male has lost his distinctive red crown (cat attack?) so he looks really weird but he doesn’t seem to mind. After all, he’s in love, witnessed by the way he takes seeds and nuts from my hanging feeder, then flies to the ground and feeds them to his sweetie. 

There are also plenty of the usual — sparrows, robins, finches, bluejays, wrens, and the like — but also hawks and owls, the latter of which have scared me half to death more than once by swooping within a few feet of me late at night. 

So why the abundance of birds? Well, I live in an older neighborhood with lots of large trees, which provide food, cover, and nesting sites. That helps. I feed birds year ‘round, not just in the winter when natural food supplies dwindle. I fill two bird baths each time I water. I rarely (as in almost never) use pesticides, which means birds have a steady diet of caterpillars, bugs and beetles. And I don’t have a cat.

I do, however, have plants that provide food for birds. The hollies are especially prized by a number of species. There’s a robin that eats exactly seven berries at a time. Seriously, exactly seven. And the cedar waxwings gobble them up like candy. Several species feast on my blueberries, to the point where I settle on store bought. Hummingbirds love my Tecomas (Esperanza), two of which I grow in large pots just off the patio so I get a bird’s-eye view of them while they suck sweet nectar from the tubular flowers.

I could go on and on with bird stories. But I won’t. I will, however, urge you to do everything you can to make your landscape more bird friendly so you can enjoy many of the same experiences. And here are a few tips on how to do just that.

  • Set out feeders, houses, and nesting boxes.
  • Provide a source of water.
  • Choose plants that produce fruits and seeds, and avoid deadheading.
  • Plant conifers to provide year ‘round cover and nesting sites.
  • Create cascading layers in the landscape with large trees followed by understory trees, then shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers.
  • Reduce pesticide use.
  • And keep cats indoors!

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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24 responses to “For the Birds”

  1. Christi Bingham says:

    Thanks for the birdie tips! Sometimes I think I garden just to watch the birds and bees enjoy my work!

  2. Betty (BETTY) Shaull says:

    We too had a male cardinal with no top knot. We called him TopKnotLess!! HA!!!

  3. Mary Easley says:

    Thank you for the article on birds. I’ve been reading and gradually building a safe place for the beautiful red cardinals sited in my back yard. Also last week I think I witnessed a beautiful yellow hooded oriole- I haven’t seen him again. My problem is pesticide i use in my small vegetable garden. I must change that practice. Also I plan to winter feed. Thank you for sharing the dangers of the loss of these beautiful creatures.

    • Paul James says:

      I wish I had orioles in my yard. They’re so beautiful. Thanks for reading.

  4. Andrea says:

    I love my birds. We have three feeders and a birdbath and a humming bird feeder. Some birds prefer the dog water! 🙂 I have a possum haw tree I bought a number of years ago at Southwoods and it is a haven for the cedar waxwings, robin, mockingbirds and others in the winter and a refuge for all the birds in the summer. This summer I had the opportunity to see a Rose Breasted Grosbeak feeding in the sunflower seed feeder. It was gorgeous. Thanks for your article on the birds.

    • Paul James says:

      I’m jealous. I’ve never seen a Rose Breasted Grosbeak in my yard. Maybe I should plant a Possum Haw, which for folks who don’t know, is a deciduous holly.

  5. MJ Gibbs says:

    Suggestions for “squirrel unfriendly” feeders.

    • Paul James says:

      There are several different styles of squirrel-proof feeders, and most of the ones I’ve tried work great.

  6. Randi T says:

    Grease the poles of pole feeders with Vaseline. !The squirrels are now trained and haven’t bothered our bird feeders foe years. Plus it’s fun watching them learn and slide

    • Paul James says:

      I use to do that, and it was a blast watching the sliding squirrels. Now I use squirrel-proof feeders, which work great.

  7. Janice S says:

    Thanks for all the Info! Since I’ve been working from home I’m amazed at how many bird families come and go in my yard! So fun to watch from my kitchen/office window. I need to keep water supplied more often.

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks for reading my blog, Janice. I’ve been working from home for months, and one upside is I have more time to enjoy the birds.

  8. says:

    I’m so glad to see you have Brown Thrashers. I live in Georgia and they are the state bird. I love to see them hopping around under the azaleas. I also have cardinals. Their favorite food at my feeder is sunflower seeds. When I’m out watering they come up and fuss until I fix the hose so they can take baths. Thank you for your article on birds!

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca. And thanks for caring for our fine-feathered friends.

  9. Charlie Transue says:


    I, too, live in a mature Midtown neighborhood. I had to give up year around bird feeding because the bird seed scattered on the ground attracted rats, which In turn ate my tomatoes. I keep water out year around, and have great cover, to which the thrashers return each spring. I put the bird feeder up during standard time November to March.

    Charlie Transue

    • Paul James says:

      Yeah, I’ve got a rat issue as well as a result of scattered seed. They gnaw on my cucumbers, no doubt in search of moisture.

  10. Caroline Johnson says:

    Does it seem like it’s the year of the blue jay?! We have a pleasantly raucous number of jays this year, seemingly of all ages, from awkward adolescents to the giant granddaddies. They especially love splashing it up in the bird baths! So much fun to watch and listen to in these slow times 🙂

    • Paul James says:

      Pleasantly raucous is the perfect way to describe blue jays. I love watching them dive bomb the squirrels in my yard. Thanks for reading, Caroline.

  11. Tom Peters says:

    The last few years I’ve been attempting to build and add birdhouses to my yard, I’m up to 14. There’s great satisfaction seeing them become occupied and hearing and seeing the babies. This year 12 if the 14 were used.
    As far as feeding I try my best to keep the feeders full throughout the year. But at my house in New Milford,CT I have an issue I’m sure you don’t have in Tulsa , I have to contend with black bears raiding the feeders, so at times I have to stop feeding til the bears have left the area.
    Keep up the great job, your blogs are excellent!!

  12. Bettina says:

    Tecomas (Esperanza): question after I looked up this gorgeous flower! what size pot do you recommend and do they need to be brought into the garage and watered over winter, or can they stay in a sheltered spot on the porch (a corner with 2.5 walls)?

    • Paul James says:

      I’d recommend at pot that’s at least 18″ in diameter. You can overwinter them in the house or garage, and you’ll need to bring them in once temps drop into the lower 40s.