Attract birds and butterflies to your yard
It took a few years, but Angie’s List member David Schmidt says his attempts to create a sanctuary for wildlife in his San Leandro, California, backyard have finally paid off.
“My wife and I both wanted a backyard that we could enjoy, relax in after after work and on the weekends, feel closer to nature, and support our hobbies of gardening and bird watching,” he says. After purchasing their home in 2008, the Schmidts embarked on a plan that included building a goldfish pond to provide water, erecting birdhouses, and installing specific plantings for shelter and pollination, and then adding a beehive to attract honeybees.
“It didn’t take too long for the wildlife to appear,” Schmidt says. “Quite honestly, the wildlife may have been there all along but by making the changes we did (placing the pond and the bird feeding station right outside the family room window), it allowed us to concentrate activity where we could see it.”
Experts say the Schmidts did exactly the right thing to attract wildlife: provide water, food and shelter. In fact, the number one way to attract wildlife, experts say, is to incorporate a water feature, such as a birdbath or pond, into your landscape.
Rachelann Conner, a landscape designer at highly rated Yard Birds in Porter, Texas, says a clean and reliable water source provides the best option for attracting birds. “You don’t want to have water and then take it away for two to three weeks,” she says. “Consistency is really important. Hummingbirds and birds have a tremendous memory for food and water sources. You can find the same birds in your yard each year — even the ones that fly to South America for the winter — if you have a consistent water supply.”
Birdbaths, which can cost as little as $25, offer an easy and cheap way to add a water feature to your yard. However, you should change the water twice a week to keep it clean and prevent algae from growing. Conner says urn fountains are also a good option. “It’s a nice step up from a birdbath, because you’ve got the sound of moving water,” she says. “You can put one of those in for around $1,500. It doesn’t take up nearly as much space as a nice pond, but it gives you a nice water feature to attract birds and butterflies.”
Costs for a pond vary greatly depending on size. Peter Klinkenberg, president of highly rated Floridigenous Landscape in Clearwater, Florida, says the average minimum cost to install a pond that spans 3 to 4 feet across is about $1,000. Conner says the typical size pond measures 9 by 12 feet, and Yard Birds charges about $6,000 for the work, including a fountain and rocks. Schmidt says he spent $11,000 on his pond installation.
To attract butterflies and hummingbirds, Conner says you need to provide a variety of nectar sources and planting annuals work well due to the flower density level created by planting in clusters. A butterfly garden costs about $1,000 to $2,000 to install, experts say. For monarch butterflies specifically, Klinkenberg says to plant milkweed. Adult butterflies plant their eggs on the milkweed, and the young caterpillars feed on it.
Birds, however, feed on seeds and berries. Conner says holly bushes provide the best food source for birds, because some species survive in the winter when other food sources become scarce.
Birds also need more shelter than just holly bushes. Planting trees like dogwoods or redbuds provide the most comfort to birds, Conner says. The birds can reach a high enough perch to feel safe from ground predators, but low enough that they are able to scout for food. For a sheltered area year-round, plant evergreen trees.
A year after installing his pond, Schmidt says he paid Patricia Wagner of Garden Design in the Bay Area $1,800 to design a garden that was installed by highly rated Highland Landscape in Castro Valley, California. He says that landscaping project, which totaled $26,000, included plantings, a new deck, pergola and arbors, raised garden beds, flagstone and an irrigation system. The beehive and honeybees totaled $442.
“We typically see a good variety of birds such as Anna’s Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Western Scrub-Jay, American crow, Oak Titmouse, and numerous others. The pond has attracted a great egret and a pair of mallards that come back every spring,” Schmidt says, adding that his backyard sanctuary requires regular upkeep. “We really enjoy the learning that goes along with yard.”