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Naturalize your backyard bird feeding

As sure as leaves turn color and fall to the ground at this time of year, bird feeders are filled and placed in backyards across Washington.

Window-side, arm-chair birdwatchers enjoy drawing both migrant and resident birds into close-up view in this traditional way.

It's a tradition to continue only if you keep those bird feeding stations immaculately clean; use high quality feed and feeder types that only birds can access; locate them to avoid problems with window collisions, predatory cats, and other wildlife like deer and bears; and recognize that feeding only provides temporary benefits to some birds. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recommends simplifying and "naturalizing" the tradition of backyard bird feeding by landscaping with plants that provide berries, fruits, seeds, or nuts for your feathered friends.

Many of these natural bird feeding plants will add beautiful color to your fall homescape. And there's no time like fall, when plant root systems slow down and go dormant, to add trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Some of the best plants that provide soft fall and early winter fruit include Pacific crabapple, red-osier dogwood, elderberry, gooseberry, huckleberry, Western serviceberry, and madrone.

Plants that best provide fruit that will last through winter and into early spring, when food is in short supply, include barberry, currant, firethorn, Douglas hawthorn, Rocky Mountain and Western junipers, Sitka and Cascade mountain-ash, Oregon-grape, snowberry, sumac, and wild rose.

Three great seed and nut-producing trees for western Washington landscapes are hazelnut, vine maple, and birch. For larger areas, include oaks and conifers.

Wildlife-friendly seed and nut trees for other parts of the state include alder, Douglas fir, and other conifers. More birds than not use seeds, and lots of shrubs and perennial flowering plants provide them. But the key to this naturalized bird feeding is to leave those "dead heads," or spent flowers with all those seeds. Leave that kind of clean up for spring, and enjoy watching your bird visitors do some of the work this fall!

Among the best seed-producing shrubs are mock-orange, ninebark and oceanspray. There are dozens of garden perennials that are good seed-providers, including aster, black-eyed susan, blanketflower, calendula, goldenrod, columbine, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, fall sedum, lupine, nasturtium, sunflower, sweet pea, and yarrow.

Check with your local nurseries for other appropriate plants that will not be weedy or invasive in your part of the state.

For more information about naturalizing your backyard bird feeding, see WDFW's Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program. A good source of detailed information about plant species is available in "Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest," by WDFW wildlife biologist Russell Link, available through WDFW's North Puget Sound regional office in Mill Creek.

This info was passed along by Elliott Menashe of Greenbelt Consulting

Washington Department Of Fish And Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091
October 2010

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