For the Birds: When birds choose ‘your’ flowers

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

There are few things more satisfying to the backyard birdwatcher than having a bird eat seeds or fruits from something planted by the birdwatcher’s own hands.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway and it was made clear the other day when a small flock of American goldfinches descended upon my small patch of purple coneflowers for a late afternoon meal.

That opening statement comes with some qualifications, most importantly if you want the birds to be eating the seeds or fruits. I don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating seeds from a flower garden. I also don’t know why anyone would mind birds eating fruits from, say, dogwood trees, crabapple trees or winterberry bushes.

If, however, the fruit is being grown for human consumption, such as cherries or blackberries, then I can understand how there would be frustration on the part of the gardener.

I used to live in an apartment owned by a family that grew some fruits and vegetables on the property. Year after year, the cherries never got to see the light of the kitchen as birds, mostly starlings, ate the fruits before they were ready to be picked. My landlord was mighty frustrated and tried everything to prevent it from happening. He tried noise deterrents and scary-looking balloons, but the starlings were unfazed by it all.

So, yes, there are exceptions to my opening statement, but edible fruits aside, I stand by it. I always get a thrill in late summer or early fall when the goldfinches perch precariously atop the coneflower and pick out the tiny seeds. As the fall progresses, I can usually find a few kinglets (ruby-crowned and golden-crowned) among the sedum.

Sunflowers are great for attracting birds, which makes sense since the best and most versatile feeder food is sunflower seeds. Goldfinches and downy woodpeckers are the most reliable customers when I grow sunflowers.

I love any hummingbird sighting, but there is something more satisfying about seeing one feed from a plant growing in the garden or hanging near the deck than drinking from a feeder.

I’ve never had much luck growing berries, but one house I used to live in had a wild black cherry tree in the front yard. I used to love to watch the robins attack the tree every fall. I would always hope cedar waxwings would come too. To my knowledge, they never did and the robins did a pretty good job of stripping the tree of all its fruits.

Planting native flowers, bushes and trees is a welcomed trend among homeowners and landscapers. It is helping birds, pollinators and other native wildlife even as we continue to take away their natural habitat.

It is exciting to see these plants come back year after year. It’s even better when you see the plants supporting other native wildlife.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American goldfinch looks for seeds atop a coneflower in New England, summer 2020.

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