You can draw wildlife with specific plantings, but I have found that a garden cultivated for its diversity and long season of interest will also appeal to birds and other animals. I have a fish pond, shrubs and evergreens that provide shelter to roost, and plants rich in nectar and berries.
I don’t use pesticides (apart from Bt on the cabbages), and I work organically in a way that provides for a rich array of creatures that live in the soil or on the wing. This provides poison-free food for the birds.
Encouraging the birds’ arrival is just the half of it, because their appearance coincides with that time of year when they are driven to construct nests, lay eggs and raise their young.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” says birds and other wildlife have come to rely on native plants that foster a rich insect life. Caterpillars, he says, are the best food for new birds. I attended an event recently where he made a compelling case for planting trees such as red oaks, which foster scores of insect species. “Caterpillars are excellent baby food,” he told a gathering at the New York Botanical Garden. “They’re soft, they’re high in protein and easy to digest.”
A single pair of chickadees will bring its young between 390 and 570 caterpillars a day, working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said. Before the chicks fledge, they will have eaten as many as 9,000 little caterpillars. As frenetic and exhausting as it is for the birds, it’s pretty draining for the bird-watcher as well.
In the back of the house, I have a downspout that rises about 15 feet before moving out to a projecting eave. At the fork between pipe and house wall, a robin built a nest and set about raising a family. The mother cannot alight directly onto the nest: She arrives by bouncing between wall and drainpipe in a way that strikes a note. The nest is not hidden, but it’s virtually impossible for predators to reach.
Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal have adopted a different approach. They built their nest in the thorny veil of a rambling rose whose buds are growing noticeably by the day, as are the chicks in the nest. The rose and its nest adjoin a screened porch. At about four feet above the ground, the nest is clearly seen from the porch. When the mother leaves, there is a heartwarming show of young, vulnerable life.
The cabaret began with the nest building before, lo, the appearance of four eggs, light in color with tan specks.