Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby Birds

By Mary Benton and Michael Faisal Green

In collaboration with Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

 

Greetings, South Floridians!  Imagine turning your garden into a nursery for baby birds, a place of beauty that attracts creatures great and small; aerial and terrestrial;  colorful, silent or singing, shy or gregarious. You can create a playground and dining hall for generations of birds who will delight you with their beauty and birdsong. You can make new friends without leaving your garden!

The message could not be more clear: FEED ME!!  Baby birds need lots of bugs.  Dev Steffen encountered these Mockingbird babies when she was out pruning her porterweed.  Mockingbirds are very protective of their young and they dive bombed her, screeching until she backed away, managing to snap a quick photo.  Other bird parents might try distracting you, hopping some distance away from the nest and doing the bird equivalent of “hey, look at me, I’m over here!  Nothing to see over there!!”.

Unlike humans, these creatures have specific breeding seasons and for birds, it is spring and early summer in South Florida (December to June). Birds pick this time to reproduce as the combination of moderate heat and dryness means the height of food availability.  Mild temperatures reduce heat-induced fatigue and stress; trees are blooming, attracting insects and producing fruits and seeds; and the dry season means their primary source of food – insects – are less likely to be grounded by rain. Plus, their breeding season aligns perfectly with the time of year when we want to be outside in the garden due to the lovely weather, so we have a wonderful opportunity to observe these beautiful and vulnerable creatures.  How cool is that?  Read on to see the easy steps we can take to attract, nurture, and enjoy the company of our feathered friends in our very own gardens. 

The single most important thing you can do to when creating a nursery is to stop using toxic chemicals.  We can’t stress enough how important this is.  If you use toxic chemicals in your garden to kill mosquitoes or rats, or to control weeds, you will be killing the insects that birds — especially baby birds — rely on for protein, and poisoning the berries and seeds the adult birds eat (and don’t forget that humans need insects — particularly pollinators — to survive).  You wouldn’t think of using toxic chemicals around a human baby, and baby birds are even more vulnerable. There are many organic practices and products that you can use in place of toxic chemicals so no excuses, right? 

 

The second most important thing you can do is to plant native plants.  Why natives?  Native plants attract more insects.  Who needs insects?  That’s right: birds need insects, especially the babies who need protein to grow into healthy adults.  Need help deciding which to plant? You can check out this cool tool of a Native Plant Finder, enter your zip code, and get a list of native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that attract the most insects in your area.  It is a work in progress, but there are lots of great suggestions and it is continuously being improved.  The Florida Native Plant Society‘s website, along with the Institute for Regional Conservation’s Natives for your Neighborhood are full of helpful information on what native plants will work best in your garden.  You can start small, but you’ll soon become addicted, especially if a number of those plants also attract butterflies.  Beautiful plants attracting butterflies and birds: what’s not to love? 

Mockingbirds will gobble up the berries of the native Lantana involucrata, as well as encounter insects drawn to its flowers.
Solanum americanum, or American nightshade, pops up in the garden this time of year. Please consider keeping it as the berries are beloved by Mockingbirds when they ripen. The plant also attracts caterpillars to its leaves, so it serves a double duty. Hmmm….it is almost like nature is looking out for the birds during baby bird season.

You can supplement the bird food supply by setting up bird feeders close to tree or shrub cover, using white millet or black sunflower seeds.  Bird feeders can take many forms.  They also allow you to get a better view of your feathered friends, so set them up and sit back and enjoy!

Birds can dart in and out of the surrounding shrubbery, making them feel safer.  This feeder contains white millet seeds that attract Cardinals, Painted Buntings, Blue Jays, and the like.
This flat bird feeder is filled with black sunflower seeds.
Putting mealworms out during the day is a great way to ensure that birds can get extra protein.
Instead of composting your eggshells during baby bird season, you can crush them and leave them somewhere safe for the mama birds. Ingesting calcium helps strengthen the eggshells developing inside.

 

Leave a supply of bird nest building materials.

Don’t be finicky about trimming all your dead twigs; let the birds use them for nest building material. While you’re at it, a few little bits of cotton string make handy nest material as well.
Spanish moss is a wonderful material for nest building.

Install a water feature.  You get extra points for having running water that the birds can hear.

The sound of trickling water is particularly attractive to some bird species. It is also a very calming and soothing sound to the human ear, and we need all the calming and soothing we can get these days. If you can invest in something like this, go for it.
Birds probably don’t much care how a bird bath is decorated, but this sure makes a nice ornament for human eyes.

 

Although this can be a touchy subject given the fact that feral cats, many of which have been neutered, abound in our community, cats and birds don’t mix.  Cats are the single biggest killer of birds and their babies. Please keep domestic cats indoors, particularly during baby bird season.

Please keep domestic cats indoors to keep birds safe outdoors.  This photo was taken by Neil de la Flor

Refrain from trimming shrubs, trees, or hedges until the rainy season commences in June.  Trimming reduces cover, stresses the birds and can damage or destroy nests and kill the babies.  And try to find an arborist who is sensitive to such issues.

The northern mockingbird is part of the thrush family – all of which are proficient in mimicking the songs of dozens of other species and common sounds. They do this using phrases and mockingbirds, as a general rule, repeat these phrases three or more times. So often they will mimic a blue jay by repeating their calls a minimum of three times and then immediately succeed that with imitating another bird/sound three or more times. Mockingbirds have an astounding musical repertoire, and seldom will you find them singing the same song, so whilst every song can be varied, it is easily recognisable by the number of repetitions.  If you’re not sure what they sound like, you can check out their song here.

Did you know that the Northern Mockingbird is Florida’s state bird? We can do a lot to ensure these cuties thrive in our gardens here in South Florida by providing a safe environment full of insects and berries.  Neil de la Flor captured this adorable tufted creature in his garden.
This graphic can help you determine what to do if you find a baby bird on the ground.  Remember always to contact Pelican Harbor Seabird Station before bringing a bird in.  They can only accept native species and will help you determine whether the bird in fact needs rescuing.  You can learn more by watching these videos:  video 1 and video 2. 
At the end of the day, the message is the same: FEED ME!! This beautiful shot of two fledgling Mockingbirds was caught by Luis Forte. You can follow him on Instagram @lgfortem

We hope this post helps you understand how you can work with nature to create a safe space full of tasty food for baby birds and their parents right in your very own garden.  Knowing that you are playing a role in ensuring that the babies reach adulthood and take to the skies is a wonderful feeling!

 

Natives for Neighbors: Creating a More Beautiful, Resilient, and Sustainable Community

What are Natives for Neighbors?

by Mary Benton and Monica Gross

 

For many students, this is their first interaction with a native plant. Check out the joy on Tamarah’s face!

Bound by Beauty (BbB), in collaboration with middle and high school teachers Monica Gross and Frank Mataska and their students at Doctors Charter School (DCS), BbB’s Network of Neighborhood Nurturies, TreeHuggers LLC, as well as other members of the community, launched Natives for Neighbors as a pilot program in the 2019/2020 school year.  This program is designed to teach students about the role and importance of plant and animal species that are native to South Florida ecosystems, and to help them gain an understanding of both the negative and positive impacts humans can have on these communities.  In studying the problems humans cause such as habitat destruction and pesticide use, students identify concrete actions to help solve them. 

Thanks to Natives for Neighbors, 7th grade DCS students planted over 60 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including 10 donated to the school by Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network, providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects that are essential for the survival of the natural world, including our own survival as humans.  By increasing the number of locally-grown trees and shrubs that sequester carbon, cool our community, filter our groundwater, and protect our food supply by providing habitat for pollinators, students play a direct role in making our community more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable.  

How does the program work?

l-r: Kaiya, Tsenat, Kelsey, Amanda, and Sophia were thrilled to take their plants home.

Native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are either donated by members of BbB’s nurturies, or purchased from area nurseries.  Students identify a location in their yards or communities, and choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. Students learn practical skills such as how to plant and nurture native plants at school, and take those lessons home with them, along with their new plants.  After transplanting the plants in their own gardens, students continue to nurture and observe them, while studying the relationships that these plants have with their living and nonliving environment, and how they form viable solutions to human-caused environmental problems.  According to a follow-up survey nearly half of the students reported seeing an increase in the amount of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects in their gardens from one plant alone! 

Sustainability

Students will learn how to identify, harvest, and nurture seeds and seedlings from their own plants, sharing those seeds with members of the community, Brockway Library’s seed collection, and the seedlings and their planting and nurturing skills with friends and neighbors.  This project will grow organically as more native plants are planted every year, and more seeds and seedlings are available for harvest and sharing.  In addition to increased knowledge among students, there will be a growing interest among neighbors in participating in this collaboration.  Students will create an identification chart of natives to instruct others, and share that and other useful information via the school’s website so as to encourage others in the community to participate. 

Shiny-leaf wild coffee produces berries beloved by birds, and little white flowers that smell like honey and attract all sorts of pollinators. They are very easy to propagate from seedlings.

Every year, the community will achieve increased canopy cover and cooler temperatures that offset global warming as new groups of middle school students plant their natives.  Finally, their work outdoors will have an additional long-lasting impact because student participants will gain a greater appreciation for nature.  Imagine what can be achieved if more area schools joined in their efforts to make more and more native plants thrive in our community!

The Slippery Slope of Container Butterfly Gardening Leads to Magic by Lisa Diaz

Couple of years ago my dearest friend, Susan Howell, installed a butterfly garden in her front yard. While the idea was sound, I have to admit I also thought it was a bit peculiar. Then Susan walked me across the street to our friend Mary Benton’s house to show me what an established butterfly garden looks like and from that moment, I was enchanted.

Mary’s garden, filled with plants that attract butterflies, bees, and birds.

Fast-forward about 9 months when Susan and I were exploring her garden, standing among dozens of winged butterflies, as we discussed my upcoming birthday when I casually mentioned that I would not mind having a few butterfly plants of my own. They would need to be in pots, however, because I live in a rented town house with a very small patio. Susan enthusiastically agreed.

 

Then on my birthday as we met for breakfast and dined on chicken n’ waffles and eggs benedict, Susan presented me with a gift of seed money, a coordinated contribution from 10 of our closest friends, to build my very own backyard butterfly garden. I was overwhelmed by the love and generosity of my friends and very excited as we hastened from the restaurant and made our way to Susan’s favorite nursery, an oasis of beautiful plant life that I had never seen before. She expertly hand selected every plant, astonishing me with her knowledge of plants and butterflies, host plants and nectar plants, caterpillars and chrysalis.  I did not know if I would ever be able to grasp an understanding of it all.

Lisa and Susan at the nursery.

We spent the day at my house, digging, planting, repotting and arranging. It was completely and utterly the most enjoyable and satisfying day I had spent in a long time.

Getting ready to repot the plants.

Fast forward two years and I can tell you that my garden, still growing, has brought me unending joy. I can speak butterfly now!  My small space seems much larger than it actually is, and I find some new wonder to marvel at almost every day.

The magic of a newly-emerged Monarch butterfly.

Now I am rooting plants, repotting plants, introducing new plants… the garden has a life cycle all its own.  I have seen hummingbirds and at least 4 species of butterflies including a brand-new visitor, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly!  I cannot begin to describe how exciting that was, other than to say I Immediately purchased a wild lime tree to ensure that they will always return.

A beautiful Giant swallowtail laying eggs on Wild lime.

I could not have dreamed that I would create such a captivating garden in such a small space, but I did and you can and I am now and forevermore bound by its beauty.

My plant-filled patio is magical day and night.

 

Bound by Beauty note:  We believe in the importance of planting as many native plants for wildlife as possible.  However, that is often easier said than done.  Few box stores and commercial nurseries offer native plants.  It is nearly impossible to find native milkweed even in native nurseries in South Florida.  However, we find that, as people educate themselves as they move through their butterfly journey, they gain an understanding of the importance of native plants.  Since that wonderful butterfly birthday present, Lisa has gone on to plant a Wild lime (which grows into a tree but can be kept pruned), one of Florida’s few native citrus plants, and Tropical sage, a native wildflower that attracts butterflies, bees, and birds. 

Other native plants that attract butterflies and other wildlife that do well in containers include: Corkystem passionvine; Pineland lantana; Tickseed; Fogfruit; Gaillardia; Wild sage; Lignum vitae; Little strongback; Scorpiontail; and Pineland heliotrope.  Please note that some of these grow into small trees which would require root pruning over time, and we recommend you look these plants up either on the the Florida Native Plant Society website or the Institute for Regional Conservation before buying them for your container garden to ensure they fit your site requirements.  Once you do, and you’ve installed your own container garden, let the magic begin!

Lisa’s Wild lime will attract such beauties as these mating Giant swallowtail butterflies.

 

Attract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to Your Garden with a Hedgepodge

When people think of a hedge, they typically envision a green wall that offers privacy and a windbreak. It probably doesn’t occur to many that such manicured green walls are actually harmful for the environment as they require upkeep in the form of noisy, polluting hedge trimmers and, particularly in the case of Ficus hedges, toxic chemical insecticides. What if you could create a hedge that actually benefited the environment, while bringing beauty and birdsong to your garden? 

“Benefiting the environment sounds like a good plan to us”, say these Red-masked Parakeets.  “We’d give it two thumbs up if we had thumbs!  Heck, we’d give it four thumbs up, but then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”   Photo by Michael Faisal Green

We invite you to ponder the concept of a ‘hedgepodge’, a biodiverse vertical food forest for butterflies, bees, and birds created from a myriad of beautiful native wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and small trees. You will still get your privacy and a windbreak. More importantly in this era of climate change, you will be creating something that actually helps conserve the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. What will you have to give up? The polluting noise of hedge trimmers, toxic chemicals poisoning your landscape, and a bit of your manicured mindset. What will you gain in return? Beauty in the form of clouds of floating butterflies, happy bees, migrating jewels with wings, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you are helping make their lives — and thus your own — possible.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you have the right plants, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for insects and seeds in your hedgepodge. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

So, how do I get started, you ask?  If you have an existing hedge, consider planting some native Corkystem passion vines every few yards along the length of it.  The mere act of doing so will bring three different butterfly species to your garden, attract birds to the tiny purple berries, and give buzzy bees some sweet nectar.  Corkystem is a gentle vine with tendrils that won’t strangle your existing plants.  And it grows just fine in sun or shade.  Just make sure you put a barrier around it to keep the lawn guy from weed wacking the vine.

Zebra butterflies getting ready to roost for the night in a hedgepodge.  Yes, roosting Zebras are a thing.  They lay their eggs on Corkystem.
Julia butterfly chilling in a garden that provides plenty of nectar and host plants.  She just finished laying her eggs on Corkystem.  Note the thicket in the back.  Birds like to hunt insects there.
A pair of Gulf fritillary butterflies mating next to a future butterfly consuming the leaves of a Corkystem passionvine.

Will it be messy, you ask?  Well, there is poop involved, from both the caterpillars and the birds.  But the former creates compost and the latter produces seedlings.  

“We do produce a lot of caterpillar frass, but it enriches the soil”, say the Zebra caterpillars.
Corkystem passionvine berries make a yummy snack for birds.  They digest the pulp and poop out the seeds, creating lots of new Corkystem seedlings.  If they pop up where you don’t want them, you can easily dig them up and re-plant them near your hedge.  Don’t forget to water them until they recover from the transplant.
Last but not least with this remarkable native vine, the diminutive flowers attract bees.  Photo from Wild South Florida.

If your existing hedge has holes in it, or if you are starting with a clean slate, there are lots of wonderful Florida natives that will delight you by bringing more beauty to the garden.  Take Wild Coffees, for instance.  There are two Florida natives: Bahama wild-coffee and Shiny-leaf wild coffee.  These attractive plants do well in a variety of growing conditions, attract butterflies and other pollinators, as well as birds who eat the fruit.  You can click on their names to do a little research to see if they’re a good fit for your garden.

Bees and butterflies like Zebras and Atalas love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.
Wild coffee fruit is devoured by birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds.  I know, the berries look delicious, but the taste to a human palate is rather bland.  I’d leave them for the birds.  And, no, they don’t contain caffeine either.

And then there are the Stoppers: Red stopper, which has white flowers and orange fruit; Red-berry stopper, with white flowers and red fruit; Spanish stopper, with white flowers and brown and black fruit; White stopper, with white flowers and red and black fruit (and, some say, it smells a bit like skunk); and last but not least, the Simpson stopper, with white flowers and orange fruit.  All of these shrubs attract birds and pollinators.

These make a very merry birdie feast.
The flowers attract lots of pollinators.

Another plant to consider —  the Pineland strongback  or Little strongback (or strongbark as it is frequently called) — is one of my favorites, so much so that I have it as a stand-alone shrub that has delicate, cascading branches that are covered year-round with white flowers and orange fruit.  I once watched a female Black-throated blue warbler pop one in her mouth, even though it was nearly as big as her head.  It would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge.

Hummingbirds and others sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit.
Here’s the beautiful little female Black-throated Blue Warbler. In addition to eating the fruit of the Little strongback, she likes bathing a lot, so you might want to consider installing a bird bath or other water feature.  Photo by Michael Faisal Green.
Here is her mate who. when he’s not hunting insects, likes berries and baths too.  Photo also by Michael Faisal Green.

The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge.  Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.

These white flowers have nectar that attracts a number of butterflies, including the imperiled Schaus’ swallowtail.

Another good hedgepodge plant for wildlife is the Wax myrtle.  It has white and green fruit that gives cover and food to birds and feeds two kinds of butterfly caterpillars.

Also known as Bayberry, Birds love the seeds and find cover among the leaves.

Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast. 

Also known as colicwood, Florida myrsine has white flowers, black fruit, and attractive leaves.

Last but not least, is the Florida privet, a lovely, salt-tolerant shrub with yellow and green flowers, and blue, purple and black fruit that attracts birds.

Kirsten Hines photographed this sweet little Prairie Warbler looking for food in a Florida privet.

There are numerous other plants that would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge, but I’ve given you a lot to go on.  In between doing research into which plants make most sense in your garden, why don’t you order Kirsten Hines’ book, which will tell you all you need to know about attracting birds to your garden in South Florida.  And while you’re at it, why not daydream about your neighbors converting their hedges to hedgepodges, thereby providing thriving and beautiful wildlife corridors throughout the community.

To read more about the importance of native plants and insects, order this book:

Each one of us who owns a bit of land can make a huge difference in conserving our ecosystem by planting native plants and stopping the use of toxic chemicals in the landscape, thereby creating a more resilient and sustainable world.  You too can be part of the solution!

 

   

 

  

 

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden

 

Atala butterfly on Firebush

There have been a lot of dire reports and sobering warnings of late about the decline of bird species and the disappearance of birds throughout the world, mainly due to pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat. Most of us have empirical or anecdotal knowledge of this. It is a serious problem that everyone should take to heart. But, rather than focusing on the problem, this blog post is about what you can do to be part of the solution. Yes, YOU! What would you say if I told you that you could fill your garden with beauty and, in so doing, provide sanctuary and sustenance for our beloved birds at the same time? Imagine: a garden filled with flowers and berries and butterflies and bees AND birds. Wouldn’t you want to spend all your spare time in it? And aren’t our feathered friends worth it? I thought so. So, adjust your reading glasses, get comfy, and read on.

As Douglas W. Tallamy writes in Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, “It is increasingly clear…that much of our wildlife will not be able to survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in suburban habitats.”1 Chances are, you live in a suburban habitat, which may be just a lawn with a tree or two and a few plants from Home Depot, but that’s all going to change. What you need to do is stop using toxic chemical insecticides and herbicides that do more harm than good and plant a diversity of mostly native trees, shrubs and other plants that attract native insects (hint: butterflies and caterpillars are insects), that provide protein for birds. Although many birds love to mix it up with delectable berries, the vast majority rely on insects for their main food source. And since many species we see here in South Florida are migrating long distances, that protein becomes even more important. For most butterfly gardeners, knowing that you are providing sanctuary and sustenance to birds as well makes up for the sadness of losing a certain percentage of caterpillars and butterflies. Especially when you take into account all the caterpillar- and butterfly-eating lizards that the birds are also eating.

Lizard, hoping to snag an insect, before a bird or a bigger lizard snags him.

 

What’s that you ask? How does a butterfly garden filled with native nectar and host plants attract birds? Some, like the Wild lime tree, have seeds that only birds could love. Well, perhaps lizards too.

When the Wild lime tree produces seeds, it attracts birds all day long. Read on to see another reason birds hang out in this tree.

 

This Giant swallowtail is laying an egg on a Wild lime, the same tree that produces those hard little delicacies pictured above. The Wild lime is one of very few citrus native to Florida, and is impervious to diseases like citrus canker and greening. It provides no benefit to humans other than the beautiful butterflies and birds that visit it. Don’t you agree that is enough?  Read more about the Wild lime. 

 

The Giant swallowtail caterpillar looks remarkably like bird or, in this case, lizard poop. This is clearly designed to fool the birds…but birds are no fools (I wonder if lizards are?). All it takes is the slightest movement for them to tell the difference. In case you’re not sure, the caterpillar is the tasty morsel on the left.

 

Over time, the Giant swallowtail caterpillar shape shifts from lizard poop to snake-like creature, trying to fool the hungry birds into looking elsewhere for a meal.

 

Although birds do pick off a percentage of the poopy or scary Giant swallowtail caterpillars, there will always be those that manage to reach adulthood. As you can see from this photo of a newly emerged butterfly from a rescued chrysalis, you will be richly rewarded when they do. And check out the size relative to the relatively large Monarch butterfly.

 

If you plant Passion vine, you will attract three or four different butterfly species if you’re lucky: the Zebra, the Julia, the Gulf fritillary, and the Variegated fritillary. Here we have Zebra eggs, laid in a clutch.  Learn more about the native Maypop passion vine and the Corkystem passion vine.

 

If you didn’t have predators like birds in your garden, you can imagine how quickly your Passion vine would be gobbled up. You did read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, right?

 



Zebra caterpillars are particularly vulnerable when they have just shed their too-tight skins and their spikes are still soft and translucent. Imagine what a tasty treat this little guy would be until exposure to air hardens and blackens the spikes.

 

You can see how much the Zebra caterpillars have grown, and can imagine how much Passion vine they will consume before they pupate.

 

And here the whole cycle is about to be repeated. Remember: for butterflies, it’s all about the mating, baby.

 

What’s that you say? You thought this post was supposed to be about birds, but all you see are photos of caterpillars and butterflies? Oops, here is one to give you, the reader, food for thought.

These White Ibis use their long, curved beaks to hunt for insects in the garden, aerating your lawn and ridding it of pests. If you use chemical insecticides or herbicides, you are having a direct negative impact on these beautiful, helpful creatures by poisoning them and depriving them of food. You don’t want to do that, do you? You can deal with a few weeds in your lawn to give these marvelous creatures a break, right?

 

This photo of a Prairie Warbler on a native Florida Privet was taken by Kirsten Hines, renowned nature photographer and author, in her own garden in Miami, FL. You can see her other nature photos on her Instagram page kirstennaturetravel. She knows a lot about attracting birds to South Florida gardens; in fact, she even co-authored a book about it. Learn more about the Prairie Warbler.  Make sure you listen to its song.

 

That’s okay. I’ll wait while you order  it.  You won’t regret it. Or, if you live in Miami Shores, you can run over and check it out from Brockway Library.

 

Anyway, that adorable little Prairie Warbler Kirsten photographed in her garden can be found hopping around in shrubby habitats looking for — you guessed it — insects, like caterpillars and beetles, flies and lacewings, spiders and millipedes and other yummy protein snacks. My friend and poet and bird photographer Michael Faisal Green says some Prairie Warblers overwinter here in South Florida; others breed here in the summer, and some are year round residents. The Prairie Warbler’s song is beautiful and unforgettable and, like a number of bird species, you’ll likely hear the song before you see the bird. Wouldn’t you love to see and hear them in your garden? Kind of makes you want to run to the nearest native nursery to start carving up your useless lawn and creating that bushy shrubby habitat that will attract the insects that attract that beautiful creature with its song that ascends up the chromatic scale, doesn’t it?

Speaking of birds you often hear before you see, butterfly gardens also attract hummingbirds. In addition to nectar from plants that also attract butterflies, hummingbirds eat small insects like caterpillars, insect eggs, and spiders and feed them to their babies.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In some lights, the ruby throat looks black.  Learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

 

The long tubular flowers of native Firebush are often visited by hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies.

 

Tropical, or Scarlet, sage is another plant with alluring red tubes. Zebra butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn irresistibly to its nectar. You can also find it in pink and white if red isn’t your thing.

 

Every human visitor to my garden likes my native Coral honeysuckle almost as much as the hummers!

 

The gorgeous non-native Firespike! Even if it didn’t attract hummingbirds and Zebra butterflies with its sweet nectar stored in alluring red tubes, you’d still want it in your garden, right? It also comes in magenta and other shades of pinky purple.

 

This delicate creature is a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by Michael Faisal Green.

 

Michael Faisal Green illuminates these beautiful, fragile, delicate creatures: The general rule is that there is only one hummingbird species that breeds in the US east of the Rockies — the Ruby-throated — and that’s most certainly true. However, the same cannot be said for wintering hummers. South Florida is getting increasing numbers of eastward migrants — hummers that breed on the West Coast and the South that migrate west to east, instead of the typical north to south. In addition to these uncommon migrants, South Florida is the winter home to many Ruby-throated hummers who spend their summers in the Northeast U.S. and as far north as Canada. Most of these migrants descend through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean into Mexico and the West Indies, though living on a uniquely dangerous metabolic knife edge means that crossing the Gulf and flying for a day without rest constitutes one of the most astonishing acts of aerial endurance. They are literally hours away from starving to death during long flights. The semi deciduous habitats of South Florida means that there are always flowering native plants here and the one redeeming aspect of human development — a lonely and outnumbered redeeming factor it is too — is that there are a sufficient number of native gardens and habitats, replete with nectar-laden flowers, to sustain small numbers of these birds throughout winter. Flower nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. If we can maintain as much natural habitat as possible — they love red flowers like firespike and firebush — and cultivate gardens and green spaces so that they can safely winter here and spare them a dangerous trans Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation that they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their winter home until we came along. South Florida, keep those gardens native and alive with flowering plants that sustain them!

 

Read more about how to attract hummingbirds to your garden at worldbirds.org.

 

Firebush has flowers and berries. Kinda makes you want to pop one in your mouth.

 

Here’s another shot which I couldn’t resist adding, to point out the curious similarity between an Atala butterfly’s orange abdomen and some of the Firebush berries.

 

And speaking of berries, there are lots of other Florida natives that offer delectable berries to birds.

The luscious berries of the native Shiny-leaf wild coffee attract a variety of birds.

 

When the wild coffee isn’t offering berries to birds, it provides nectar for pollinators like this Zebra butterfly. And when it is in bloom, it fills the garden with the scent of honey.

This is the bright red fruit of the Rouge plant, a native that typically has blooms and berries at the same time. It also makes a fine perch for an Atala butterfly.

 

Another native plant that does double duty, offering flowers for pollinators and berries for birds is the Little Strongback.  I watched a tiny female Black-throated Blue Warbler happily gobbling down one of these berries.

 

This is the male version of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, photographed by my friend, Michael Faisal Green.  You can see his beautiful photos and musings on his Instagram page: my_fy_green and you can read more about these Black-throated Blue Warblers..  You will be very happy if you spot these beautiful little creatures in your garden.

 

You can see how the native American beautyberry shrub got its name.  Most plants have just the purple berries, but this one decided to be different.  I sat and watched that same female Black-throated Blue Warbler eat her fill of the purple ones the other day.  I wonder if she is eating for more than one…?

 

This is the flower of the American beautyberry, which is another win/win plant for birds, bees and you!

 

Another important element for both butterflies and birds is dead trees and palm fronds. As Kirsten Hines notes in Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens, “Birds need dead trunks. Woodpeckers and other trunk-foraging birds search out insects lurking under dead trunk bark. Cavity-nesting birds use dead trunks for their nesting.”2

Leaving this dead palm up for birds like this Barn Owl to nest in is worth it, no?  Learn more about how you can attract Barn Owls to your garden.

 

This tree is full of tasty treats for this Red-bellied Woodpecker to find.  Read more about this magnificent creature.

 

Imagine the looks on your friends’ faces if you could brag that you have Zebras roosting on dead palm fronds in your garden. Untidy gardens can bring great beauty, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Another gorgeous shot by Michael Faisal Green. This Painted Bunting is guaranteed to knock your socks off, figuratively speaking.

 

Michael Faisal Green writes: Painted Buntings are quite shy birds. They do not have the natural inquisitiveness of Mockingbirds or Cardinals and will avoid open spaces and humans as much as possible. The outrageously-coloured males, perhaps aware of their colourful conspicuity, seem to be particularly reserved and are much less likely to be seen in the open than the females. For this reason, it is essential that any garden that wishes to attract them has plenty of shrubs and cover from which they can appear and disappear rapidly. Exclusively herbivorous, the best way to lure them into the open is with caged bird feeders stuffed with white millet. They seem to prefer approaching food from multiple perches, so regular, single perched feeders are not as attractive to them. Another important point worth noting is that birds are inured into a flock mentality and will always feel safer when there are more of them around. Attracting other birds to your garden — jays, woodpeckers and finches — will likely reassure birds that your habitat is safe. I have noticed that female buntings tend to shadow their larger cousins, female cardinals, and are more likely to be seen with them in gardens.

Here’s another view of the glorious male Painted Bunting, taken by Michael Faisal Green. This creature is surely worth saving by providing the seeds it needs. In addition to the feeder with white millet mentioned above, lots of native grasses provide seeds, in case you have a craving to see this bird in your garden. You can read up about these breathtaking birds.

 

There are many other bird species that visit South Florida gardens besides the ones mentioned in this post. The more insects, berries, and seed-bearing grasses you have, the more of them you’ll see. And now that you’re armed with all this information, and inspired to transform your garden into a paradise for you and wildlife, here are some native nurseries we recommend to get you started on your exciting new adventure!

Silent Native Nursery

Plant Creations Nursery

Richard Lyons Nursery

Veber’s Jungle Garden

Last but not least, you can check out Bound by Beauty’s page on how to bring butterflies to your garden.

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1Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, Portland, London), 25.

2 James A. Kushlan and Kirsten Hines, Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens (University Press of Florida), 29.

 

A Picture that’s Worth a Thousand Words….

Sometimes we come across a photo that brings joy to our hearts and resolve to our souls. This young girl attended our recent Seeds2Share workshop at our wonderful local Brockway Library. She has just finished planting her Tropical sage seeds in the moist peat pellets that she prepared for them. She clearly feels the magic of the moment, and takes pride in her accomplishment. We believe that growing plants from seed is part of our DNA, and teaching young people to germinate seeds turns them into nurturers of nature. Many thanks to Children’s Librarian Brenda Holsing and the staff at Brockway for making this workshop possible and understanding the importance of teaching children about nature! Thank you to the Miami Shores Community Alliance for their grant, and many thanks to Marcia P MacPhail for capturing this wonderful image.

Tropical or scarlet sage is very easy to germinate, and it comes in pink and white as well. It is a wonderful pollinator and hummingbird plant.
You can read more about our Seeds2Share program in the summer edition of the North American Butterfly Association’s Butterfly Gardener quarterly magazine, or on our website. http://boundbybeauty.org/seeds2share/