Welcome to the very first Birder’s Guide to Gardening Special Issue of Birding! This issue is likely quite different from anything you’ve seen from the ABA in the past. Rather than the standard handful of beefy feature articles heavily concentrating on birds, this issue comprises a series of essays from wildlife gardeners spread out over the ABA Area.
In their essays, these gardeners offer practical tips for gardening in your area/climate, both for aesthetics and, especially, wildlife. They also share their overall philosophies of gardening, their favorite native plants, proper growing conditions, and which invasive plants you should avoid in your garden. You’ll see an emphasis on plants that are specifically beneficial to birds (e.g., flowers for hummingbirds, berries for waxwings, coneflowers for finches) and pollinators.
Native plants, in general, are food for native insects, which are food for native birds, and while most of our essayists emphasize planting native species, nonnative plants can be incredibly beneficial to native wildlife if used with care. For example, where I live in north-central Texas, nonnative basil (Ocimum sp.) is abuzz with pollinators in the summer, and nonnative flame acanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) is beloved by hummingbirds. Neither is invasive here. Meanwhile, heavenly “bamboo” (Nandina domestica) is both toxic to birds and a broad-shouldered scourge in local forest understories. Never plant species that are invasive in your area, and always be a good neighbor by ensuring that the plant and its offspring remain restricted to your garden.
And keep in mind that you don’t have to own land to garden for wildlife! A couple pots on a patio or front step filled with blooming red Salvia* and purple coneflowers* are probably all you need to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your home. And a small boxed herb garden with blooming basil, thyme, and rosemary will be much appreciated by local pollinators. But beyond providing food and shelter with plants, perhaps the simplest thing you can do to attract and help birds is to provide a safe, clean, and dependable source of water for bathing and drinking. This can be anything from a small birdbath with a $10 solar-powered bubbler to a more elaborate water feature with a drip. In this issue, Roger Gray tells us about the water feature on his property and shares some of the amazing photographs he has obtained as a result.
Oswaldo Cortés closes out this issue by reviewing a book that examines the relationships between plants and birds in the Neotropics. The review is available here in English and online in both Spanish and English.
We’ve tried to offer perspectives from varied geographic areas, but with only nine essays, inevitably not all regions and climates will be represented in these pages. If you are a wildlife gardener in one of these areas, I strongly encourage you to write an essay for the next Gardening issue. And speaking of your contributions, the ABA continually strives to make heard the voices of historically marginalized and under-represented groups in birding. We urgently want and need to hear more and varied perspectives in these pages. By you sharing your knowledge, we can all become more informed and understanding birders.
I hope that there is something of use and interest to you in this issue. Please don’t ever hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for future content. Even better: Write about it yourself for the next issue! And finally, please consider sharing this issue by giving your hard copy to a friend or family member when you’re done.
Happy Gardening and Good Birding!
* Throughout this issue of Birding, such as in my letter above, you’ll see asterisks used after some plant names. These asterisks denote species and genera which are native to the area the author gardens in, and are generally good choices for the responsible wildlife gardener.
Birding is a force for good in our society. Learning and sharing about birds translates into concern for birds and the environment, and the American Birding Association provides resources and community for all people interested in birds!