Bird Friendly Landscaping in London

Habitat loss is one of the leading causes of bird declines worldwide. As habitat for birds disappears, birds lack critical resources that they depend on for survival, such as insects for food and suitable places to nest and raise young.

Anyone who owns or looks after an area of land, however big or small, can help to provide habitat for birds by incorporating bird-friendly practices into landscaping and gardening. With simple steps, any backyard can be made attractive and hospitable to birds throughout the year. Even people who live in apartments and only have access to a balcony can create habitat for birds and insects by keeping native species in containers.

Berries for Birds - native plants in Ontario

Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs may attract birds. Image by Justin Lewis.

Dos and Don'ts for the Bird Friendly Gardener

 

Do:

  • Plant species that are native to your ecoregion. See here for a list of species that are native to London (zone 5-6) from Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. Check out resources for native plant gardening from London Middlesex Master Gardeners. Whenever possible, try to source native plants locally instead of importing them from outside your zone. See below for suggested plantings to attract birds and more information about native plants. Native plants play critical roles in the life cycles of insects that nearly all birds depend on for food. Indeed, many insects have specialist relationships with certain species of plants. Those plants must be available in order for insects to reproduce, grow or overwinter. 

  • Remove non-native invasive species, especially species that can entangle birds such as burdock, and species that are prone to spreading such as common buckthorn and garlic mustard. Learn more about managing invasive species.

  • Include a source of fresh water near plants that attract birds, for drinking and bathing. Use a shallow dish or provide a ledge for animals to climb out. Keep water circulating with a pump to prevent mosquitos.

  • Add a birdhouse with an entry hole that is the right size to allow specific birds, such as wrens, to enter. Protect the hole with a metal guard (example) to keep squirrels from breaking in to steal eggs or young.

  • Let the grass grow in fall and leave dead grasses and twigs for birds to use for lining their nests.

  • Create shelter for birds to hide and roost in, such as by planting trees, tall grass and and shrubbery near bird attractants. Besides helping birds to avoid predators, vegetation provides shade and shelter birds can use to maintain their body temperature during extreme weather.

  • Treat your windows so that birds you attract to your yard are not at risk of suffering violent collisions

  • Keep pets contained or leashed when outside to prevent birds attracted to your yard from becoming prey. Pet dogs may pose similar risks to birds if allowed to run loose where there are bird attractants like feeders, baths, pollinator gardens. 

Don't:

  • Rake the leaves. Instead, leave the leaves where they fall in autumn. Leaf litter provides important overwintering habitat for insects that birds rely on for food. Birds forage for insects in fallen leaves in fall, winter and early spring.

  • Provide nesting material such as pet fur or pieces of yarn. Pet fur may be coated in residues from shampoo or medication that can harm birds. Yarn and other string can pose an entanglement hazard for nestlings. Birds should be able to find all the nesting materials they need in nature!

  • Apply pesticides or herbicides especially in spring while birds are nesting and incubating. To manage weeds without herbicides, try to dig out the roots, apply a tarp or mulch, use native ground covers to crowd out weeds, stop fertilizing and avoid soil disturbance.

  • Use sticky traps to manage pest insects, as birds may become stuck to these. Try using a burlap band barrier trap instead.

  • Leave garbage/litter on the ground that may endanger birds. Watch out for stringy materials like disposable masks or balloons that may entangle birds. 

 

Birds and Pollinator Gardens

       In a number of neighbourhoods and yards in London, community members have created pollinator gardens containing flowering plants that attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. You can learn more and get involved with pollinator gardens in London through the Pollinator Pathways Project. Gardening for pollinators also supports birds, but gardening for birds involves some key differences.

       In addition to providing nectar and pollen for insects, pollinator gardens attract a variety of birds that also act as pollinators. For instance, in summer the gardens provide food for Ruby-throated hummingbirds. These remarkable birds may visit over 1,000 flowers in a single day, hovering over each flower as their wings move at high speed in a figure eight pattern. With their long, thin bills they reach deep inside flowers and lick up nectar. In the fall and winter, seed-loving birds such as American goldfinches may visit flowers that have gone to seed, landing in golden flocks and moving among the plants.

       Gardening to support birds is a bit different from gardening for pollinators. Gardens support birds by providing habitat (e.g., shelter, suitable nesting spots) and food, especially insects that nearly all terrestrial birds need for raising young. While pollinator gardens focus mainly on plantings that attract pollinators, especially flowering plants, gardens for birds require more native foliage (leaves) to support production of more insects that birds need to eat. Increasing insect abundance can be achieved by planting more native shrubs and trees, eliminating pesticide use, not raking leaves and adopting other beneficial practices. Species of shrubs or trees that produce fruit, such as berries, may also be attractive to frugivorous birds.

Resources

 

The following tools may be helpful for identifying plants as native or introduced:

  • Seek or iNaturalist: smartphone apps that can help with plant ID

  • The USDA PLANTS Database is the leading authority on the distribution of native/indigenous plants in North America. If you are in doubt about whether a species is native to your area, we recommend checking a range map before planting.

Where to acquire native plants and seeds in the London area: