Birds bring color, and music to Landscapes. Landscapes designed predominately with natives support more diverse populations of insects and of great importance caterpillars (the larvae of moths and butterflies). Caterpillars are nutrient rich food stuffs many terrestrial songbirds need to feed their young. According to studies done by Doug Tallamy 96 percent of terrestrial songbirds need insects to raise their young. Native plants support 13x more caterpillar species on average than non-native plants. Studies have shown songbirds need native plants to reproduce successfully and when foraging for insects rarely visit nonnative plants.
When designing landscapes for songbirds it is important to consider all layers of the landscape, and remember different bird species use different layers. By offering all three in your landscape you increase the number of habitat niches available, and in doing so increase the diversity of species that will live in your landscape.
The canopy layer in terms of biomass of habitat created is very important. Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, and several species of colorful Warblers spend their life in the canopies of native trees foraging for insects. Native oak trees support 534 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars. In terms of biodiversity they rank #1. Pin, Red, Willow, and White Oak are all great choices. Other tree species native to our region with great aesthetic qualities and which also support a large number of caterpillar species are River Birch (Betula nigra), Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum), Red Maples (Acer rubrum), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and American Elm (Ulmus americana), 2 good cultivars resistant to Dutch elm disease are Princeton and Valley Forge. Well sited Canopy trees organize landscapes. Their architectural beauty is surpassed by no other living organisms. In the summer they provide cooling shade and in the winter they allow the suns warming rays to pass through. In terms of fall color, and visual impact created by their size, Canopy trees play a vital role in the design of landscapes. Their location should be selected early in the design process, and the other layers are built around them.
The understory tree layer and shrub layer are frequented by Cedar Waxwings and Hooded Warblers. This is where flowering dogwods (Cornus flordia), Redbuds (Cercis candensis), Fothergillas, Blueberries, and several species of native Vibunums can be found. Their Spring flowers attract pollinators and let us know warmer days are ahead. Their foliage host insects for birds to glean, and their fruits and/or seeds provide more nourishment in the Summer, Fall and Winter.
The herbacous layer is frequented by Northern Flickers and Eastern Towhees. Depending on soil conditions and availability of sunlight the plant species present in herbaceous layers can vary significantly. In mature woodlands only filter light makes its way to the herbaceous layer and spring ephermerals such as Mayapples, Virginia bluebells, and Trilliums dominate the landscape. Where the canopy opens or on the Southern, Eastern or Western edges of woodlands more sunlight penetrates the herbaceous layer and you have more summer and fall flowering species, such as Goldenrods, Asters, and Monardas
Edge habitats created by partially clearing wooded areas during construction are very common in Residential and Commercial sites. Unfortunately majority of the time the opportunity to greatly enhance the visual aesthetics, and wildlife value of those areas is missed. Shortly after the area has been disturbed is the best time to act. Plentiful sunlight abruptly changes the site conditions in the shrub, and herbaceous layers and species who can only live in the shade, find themselves baking in the sun, until they perish. Sadly without human intervention these areas often are colonized with opportunistic invasive plants, and become unsightly messes, with limited wildlife value. With a good design and human intervention, these areas can be planted with attractive native understory trees, beautiful native shrubs, and native herbaceous perennials that will thrive in the extra sunshine. Plants flower heavily and fall foliage colors are intense and vibrant on native edges. Songbirds reap the benefit from increased fruit and seed productions. Pollinators and other beneficial insects appreciate the plentiful flowering.
Let us design your landscape to maximize aesthetics, properly locate plants where their water and sunlight needs are met, and insure your success in attracting songbirds. If there is a particular species you are interested in attracting let us know, and we can customize your design.