Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Garden
You can create a welcoming environment for birds and butterflies in your own neighborhood! And, it doesn't require much effort or expertise. The key is to have a yard with a mix of various trees, shrubs and flowers that are attractive to a variety of birds and butterflies.
Planting for Butterflies
First, you need to identify which types of butterflies appear in your neighborhood. (Otherwise, if there are no butterflies in your area, your garden may have limited success). Try visiting a nearby flower garden, meadow, pond or wooded area with a butterfly field guide to assist you. Also take note of which plants or flowers they are attracted to.
Butterflies like gardens with lots of sun and not much wind. An open patch of wet sand or mud near the garden encourages "puddling" by mineral-hungry males. To make your garden even more irresistible, plant host plants for their caterpillars, too. Different plants are needed during different stages of a butterfly's life. Make sure you have food plants for caterpillars as well as nectar-producing flowers for adult butterflies. Adults searching for nectar are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink or purple blossoms and flat-topped or clustered flowers.
Wildflowers for your garden may include asters, black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, coreopsis, milkweeds, phlox, purple ageratum, rose verbena, spearmint and Western wallflower.
Cultivated asters, coneflowers, daisies or chyrsanthemums, live forever, marigolds, phlox and zinnias are good choices for cultivated flowers.
For shrubs and trees, try hackberries, buttonbush, privets, viburnums such as European cranberry bush, oaks, hickories, tulip, apple and cherry trees.
To keep butterflies coming, choose a mix of flowering plants that blossom from early spring through late fall. Avoid using pesticides in your garden as they are harmful to butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Visit the Missouri Department of Conservation for a complete guide to butterfly gardens.
Planting for Birds
Birds are attracted to sources of food, water and shelter.
To start attracting birds to your area you'll need a feeder. There are hundreds of different styles available. Bird feeders can be as simple as seed scattered on the ground or near a birdhouse or specialty feeders for certain seeds or particular species of birds. Black-oil sunflower seed, white proso millet and thistle seed are the best bird food choices. You can purchase mixes at grocery, pet and feed stores. Mixes of millet found in grocery stores, cracked corn and breadcrumbs are not recommended because they tend to attract nuisance birds such as starling and house sparrows.
Suet can be provided to birds like chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers in an onion bag or wire container suspended from a branch. If you provide suet, reduce the amount you offer in hot weather. Heat can make suet rancid and unhealthy for birds. Runny suet can also stick to birds' feathers, making them hard to keep clean and useful. Fruits like raisins, grapes, citrus fruit and apple slices may increase the variety of birds in your garden.
Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly colored flowers and sugar feeders. (The proper solution for feeders is one part sugar to four parts water; no coloring needed.) You should consider hanging out several feeders because hummingbirds are aggressive towards each other so many feeders will reduce "fighting." Other birds like orioles, tanagers and house finches as well as other small wildlife like squirrels also might visit these feeders.
Keep in mind that plants, shrubs and trees can also provide food for your backyard visitors. Birds and other animals benefit from plants, trees and shrubs that provide edible fruits, nuts, seed and berries.
Providing a water source is a very important part of providing a complete habitat for birds. Installing a bird bath or water dish is a simple and economical way to provide water for birds and other wildlife. As with birdfeeders, birdbaths or water dishes should be placed near low shrubs or bushes to provide quick access to cover from predators. Bird bath water should be changed every day. Every few days you should empty the bath, scrub with a brush and rinse it well. It isn't necessary to use a bleach solution, especially since they are harmful to the environment! If you must clean it with something, try a water and white vinegar solution or hot soapy water.
The best way to ensure that birds will visit your feeders and baths is to place them in safe space. Choose the location of your feeders and baths carefully. Avoid placing them in front of large windows that birds may accidentally fly into. Trees, shrubs and blooming flowers provide shelter, nest sites and a sens of safety for birds. In Missouri, oaks, hickories, tulip poplars, white pine, maples and cedars, hackberries, hollies, hawthorns and dogwoods are good choices.
If you have the space, you may want to provide nesting boxes. Remember that since different species of birds need different nesting areas, you'll need to be sure to pick an appropriate one for the birds that visit your yard. Each species prefers a certain style of box, location and size of entrance holes. You can purchase these boxes or make your own. Once the birds starts using your nest boxes, you'll need to take them down and clean them after each breeding season. Late fall or winter is a good time to work on cleaning your boxes. Be sure your boxes are up and ready in very early spring or they might not be used again.