It is an unusually warm Southern California winter evening, as I contemplate this Urban Park laid out in front of me, here in Woodland Hills, CA. I have been able to spend a lot of time at the Park while in town visiting friends, and I have noticed a definite lack of birds in the Park. I hear no bird song here. Yet, the Urban Park is full of trees, different types of trees. Some of them are native, like the California Sycamores also known as Western Sycamores (Platanus racemosa). So, if there are trees, why aren’t Warner park there birds?
There are squirrels here, lots of them! They are pretty bold and friendly. Neighbors leave raw peanuts for them. (Not the best dietary choice, by the way.. Peanuts for Squirrels) But where are the birds? This has confounded me, as I take a walk in the park.
Across the street from the Park are condos/apts with landscaping. That landscaping includes native plants: bushes, herbs, understory plantings, as well as groundcover instead of an endless stretch of lawn like in the Park. And guess what? They have birds. So nice to hear bird song just across the street from the Park!
So, what gives? If you plant trees, won’t birds come? Squirrels are certainly on board. But not the birds. Birds require more. They need native bushes with berries to eat and they need native flowers that go to seed. They need insects to eat, too. Lawns are poor choices for insects .. springy mats, that’s all they are. There is no biodiversity in a lawn. But bushes, ground cover “understory” plants, that’s what birds like!
So then, trees and lawn do not equal an ecosystem for wildlife by themselves. There needs to be more. There needs to be biodiversity. I think of an ecosystem as layers: The tall trees, the bushes or smaller growth trees, the smaller bushes, herbs or perennials, and finally ground cover. The ground becomes littered with spent leaves and seeds from the trees, bushes and flowers. Decaying organic matter adds nutrients to the topsoil. Insects come and thrive. Birds eat the insects .. yes, they don’t live on berries and feeder seed alone.
And so, when planning your native wildlife garden, you want to keep in mind the whole ecosystem. Your garden does not have to be like this park, without bird song. Your garden can be a layered ecosystem like these neighboring properties. Just think “layers” equal “life”.
While non-native plants can be useful to wildlife, without native plants in a garden, the life cycle is not complete. A functioning ecosystem is one in which birds, insects, and pollinators have evolved together over time. Birds need to feed their young, and the new babies eat insects. It takes hundreds of years for insects to adapt to new plants.
If you really want to discover ecosystem gardening, I recommend reading Douglas Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home”. It’s an eye-opener.
For help in choosing the best Shrubs in your area for Berries for Birds, a good read is this post by Carole Brown.
Nature is not just about trees and soil and air. There’s a lot more going on. Birds need more than just trees!
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