This week in the garden: Planning for backyard bird watching

Sometime last year I received a message from a member of the Two Thirds for the Birds organization. The New York-based organization has a simple goal of encouraging gardeners and landscapers to get involved in planting native plants that support birds. His motto: Healthy Landscapes, Healthy Birds, Healthy Us.

Signing it simply means a commitment to plant two native plants for every three plants planted, remove invasive plants, and use no pesticides. Why? According to organizers, “North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since the 1970s, nearly a third of the entire bird population.”

The organization was built with expert advice and has a website,, where gardeners, educators and institutions make a commitment to restoration. The aim is to create habitats for birds and beetles that are suitable for your region. If you’re not sure where to start in the garden, there are recommendations online and in our cities to help you get started.

Not everyone wants a web address to find out these things. The first step is to locate master gardening programs, arboretums that showcase local flora, consult local horticultural experts, or even get in touch with natural history centers. Most of my insights come from reaching out to local ecologists, conservationists and researchers. When collecting plant information, I always ask what wildlife they harbor.

The goal does not have to meet the expectation of becoming an experienced gardener, bird watcher or botanist. Rather, it is about finding ways not to oppress nature and to enjoy it. The organization proposed chemical-free practices that include: “Feed the soil and its biome, not the plants; Close the loop – keep all biomass on the property – give your plants the food they made themselves: be creative with compost, reduce our landfill footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Water very seldom, water very deep. Leave deadwood whenever possible – it is an endangered microhabitat. Avoid clipping and pruning – every cut is a wound. Spend time in your landscape without making a fuss, just observe. Let go.”

Some of you will find all this lesser work in the garden disappointing. The garden is your personal investment. Ironically, you’ll be pleased to know that native plants have far fewer gardening problems than exotic plants. A great relief. Nor does this mean that one should stay away from the garden to let the birds arrive, or that plants should never be watered when they seem to need help. The biggest effort will be to take care of the soil. Soil management and biome support are by far the most important keys to successful gardening of any kind.

What to discover. Over time, a wild garden is formed and trimmed by wild animals: bugs, mammals, birds. Once acclimated, plants develop a healthy immune system that is encouraged by their own mulch making. A wild garden can become lush and flowery even in winter. Plants like Toyon (Heteromeles arbuifolia) burst into bright red berries just in time to feed winter birds.

Wild gardens immediately attract birds. Passerines (songbirds/sedentary birds) arrive first, followed by larger species. If there is a bench in the garden, the birds will also get used to the people living there. This year has been one of the best for bird appearances in all parts of our garden.

Although I could hardly call myself a bird watcher, I have had numerous birds identified for me on the property through iNaturlist. Birds that visit my native plants include: Crowned Sparrows, Wrens, Brown Creepers, Pygmy Nuthatches, Black-eyed Juncos, Flycatchers, Goldfinches, White-tailed Kites, Great Horned Owls, Night Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Buzzard, violet-green swallows, Anna’s hummingbirds, Allen’s hummingbirds, mourning doves, house finches and more.

All of these species came when my native plants in the garden were fully grown. There is also food and shelter for pollinators.

Two Thirds for the Birds is not a commercial enterprise, it is a community and a movement. The organization does not ask for donations or for your personal information. Instead, the organization is an action plan and educational solution to the decline in birds and their natural habitats. It starts with native plants. If you have a moment, check the online calendar for events.

Reputable allies and ones I’ve never heard of are also worth investigating, such as: B. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Native Plant Trust, Homegrown National Park, Birding Man Adventures and many more. To be honest, I signed up. Two native plants for every three plants, no pesticides or invasive plants? Easy.

I’m keeping my giant sunflowers this year, but next year I’ll find a native sunflower species.

About Rachael Garcia

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