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Plants are great lures to increase bird diversity

Erwin Record Photo by Bryan Stevens • Scarlet bee balm is a powerful attractant for pollinators ranging from insects like bees and butterflies to birds like the ruby-throated hummingbird.

A mulberry tree overhanging the creek at my home produced a bonanza of fruit in mid-June. Some birds that hadn’t put in recent appearances suddenly became daily visitors. Cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, American robins, Northern cardinals and even a scarlet tanager feasted while the mulberries lasted.

Cedar waxwings win fans almost anywhere they go. Chances of luring these birds to your home and property can increase by offering some essential requirements. Tall trees, especially those that bear fruit, are attractive to these sociable birds. It’s more often water, not food, however, that will bring a flock of these birds close. They love a good splash in a bath, whether the source is a shallow stream or an ornamental pool set into the landscape.

Waxwings tend to travel in sizable flocks, usually in search of new food sources. The many members comprising a flock can deplete resources in a remarkably short time. Once the mulberry harvest is finished, they will seek out other fruit, including wild cherries and elderberries.

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In a garden plot dozens of common milkweed blooms began attracting butterflies, bees and other pollinators a few week ago. More recently, naturalized scarlet bee balm, which has spread vociferously through the woodland edge, has persuaded the finicky ruby-throated hummingbirds to return. Rhododendron maximus, often called “laurel,” is also in bloom, attracting its fair share of pollinators.

It’s important to note, however, that hummingbird numbers always fluctuate from year to year. Someone in Roan Mountain or Flag Pond might be overwhelmed with these tiny gems while people living in Erwin or Johnson City are still hoping to attract visits from these little birds. For instance, numbers might appear down in Northeast Tennessee but could be booming across the border in Western North Carolina.

The bee balm bloom is just the start. Those flowers will be replaced at my home by crocosmia’s red blooms and the orange blossoms of native jewelweed, also known as touch-me-not for its exploding seed pods. Hummingbirds are wild about these plants, as well as other summer garden favorites like canna, pineapple sage and 

If, like myself, you’ve been disappointed with seemingly low numbers of hummingbirds this spring, my best advice is to wait until late July and early August when young birds are out of the nest and parents and young start the slow-paced migration back south. Invariably, I see more hummingbirds in late summer and early fall than in the spring.

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Plots of wildflowers, sunflowers and day lilies are in bloom again at the Erwin National Fish Hatchery. While stopped there to take some photos with my phone, I heard American goldfinches twittering in the trees, probably attracted to the prospect of a bountiful spread of fresh seeds. The wildflowers include coneflowers, coreopsis and gaillardia, all different wildflowers that produced seeds sought by seed-eating birds like finches and sparrows.

To attract a diversity of feathered friends, its productive to move beyond simply offering a bird bath and well-stocked feeder. Landscaping lawns and gardens to offer plants that can provide a source of seeds, nectar or berries is also a great way to attract birds.

Summer is a season of plenty for American goldfinches. Even roadside ditches are choked with chicory, evening primrose and other seed-producing plants often dismissed as “weeds.” Simply driving local roads has produced several sightings of flocks of American goldfinches in recent weeks.

These small, vibrant finches are also regular visitors to my feeders, although they don’t really need my offering of black oil sunflower seeds to supplement the natural smorgasbord available to them.

The American goldfinch is also one of the last songbirds to nest each season. Some goldfinches don’t even start to think about nesting until late July and early August. Learn more about how the plants you select for inclusion in your landscape can benefit our feathered friends. The Audubon Society’s website had a helpful article online at www.audubon.org/news/how-make-your-yard-bird-friendly-0. 

To ask a question, share a sighting or make a comment, email me at [email protected]