Attracting Birds in Small Spaces

We often think of nature as something that “happens” in the country.

Nature is hanging out in farmlands and in vast fields, in wild mountains and grasslands. But nature “happens” everywhere. 

The entire planet is one connected ecosystem.

Even urban jungle dwellers can cultivate their surroundings to be bird friendly.

It doesn’t take much – often just a bit of personal observation – did you just miss the rock doves on the roof or the peregrine falcon that didn’t miss them?

Birds, like other creatures, separate their world into regions; regions that offer what they need and regions that don’t. Your city or condo unit is a region that you can augment and make more avian-friendly. You may not be feeding wild turkeys in Manhattan (although, they were feeding them at the bus terminal in Framingham – a Massachusetts town of roughly 70,000 with serious pavement, wild-driving highways, and strip malls), but urban wildlife is an expanding reality. Wonderful!

Cities are anything but “lifeless.”

Bird lovers and Apartments

Apartment and condo dwellers can make the most of the tiny spaces by thinking like a bird. Tips to make your place a birding home:

Bird Friendly Tips for the Urban Apartment

  • Plant a garden. Even if the best you can do is a window box – that is enough! Plant a variety of textures and habits in the greenery – plant herbs with ornamentals. Let mint or sweet potato flow downward or upward. Use small trellises, either those you purchased or those that you “found.” Simply sticking and weaving twigs and branches from old grapevines or brush gathered (legally!) in the local park can do the trick. You can grow tube-shaped flowers like lobelia, monarda or salvia.
  • Throw in some daisies – the finches LOVE their seeds after the flowers fade, so do not deadhead after blooming. If you have a balcony your options widen incrementally. Set up feeding stations and potted plants for hummingbirds such as trumpet vines and honeysuckle. Grow “crops” in containers…sunflowers and lettuce, tomatoes and ornamental grains like amaranth. Let the lettuce bolt and go to seed after harvesting your leaves. Setout bushes and small trees – you can even grow a dwarf apple!

Even if you live in an “extreme” area, with high winds whipping around buildings or direct sunlight, a window box that does not support living plants can still cater to the birdies. Simply stick fake blooms in your window box or suspend from a window fixture. If you use this in addition to the feeders and nectar dispensaries – you will attract a larger variety of birds by “visually” shouting out where the goodies are. Birds are visual feeders and resource locators, so like a marooned sailor, you will want to leave a loud visual message for feathered eyes that are flying by.

  • Always consult the building owner to be certain of what weight your balcony can carry. If it is sturdy you can even have a small fishpond including lilies and fish (water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon and you will need to figure in the container, etc).
  • Even the most delicate balcony can hold a birdbath – add a moving water feature or purchase a small fountain – birds are highly attracted to moving and splashing water.
  • Affix a window box with a few posies and lots of decorative moss and sticks. Birds may nest in there or use the materials for their own homesteads. Nesting materials come in a cute wreath to hang or loose for your window box.
  • Stick window feeders to your window and fill with seed. This will attract many varieties of visitors.
  • There are even clear tray feeders or bowls to feed nuts or dried mealworms. Observe what birds visit your area and consult local birding groups for more information in learning which birds to target.
  • Use hummingbird window nectar feeders to attract those little buzzers to your apartment.
  • Advocate! Encourage your housing authority or landlord to think “green”! Urban gardening and ecology systems are the hot topics today. Spread the word by investigating resources – visit urban garden clubs and enlist them to get your apartment in on the green scene. Roof gardens are great. And many cities are now allowing a wide variety of urban options including city bee and chicken keeping (Including NYC and Cambridge, MA)!

Tips for the small, bird-lovers “homestead”

For those who live in suburbia or in townhouses the possibilities to be an active “birder” are much wider. Even a small yard is blooming with endless options when compared to a balcony or window!

There are many resources available for tips and landscaping ideas that maximize small yards.

One tip is to add mirrors to give the look of a larger space. Obviously, this would not be a good idea for birders as the risk of injury to individuals flying into the mirror would be too high. Customize the design concepts to keep the birds’ needs and behaviors in mind.

  • Water! Add wall fountains, birdbaths, and small container ponds or feng shui rivers and pools. Birds and humans are drawn to ripples and the musical sound of flowing and splashing water. Water features also help to open up the space.
  • Plant containers with exciting tropicals, dwarf fruit trees and ornamentals like sunflowers and phlox. Mixing seed-bearing plants with perennials and ornamentals make for an exciting and unique display. Crop plants are now bred in mini form – get raspberries, blueberries, peaches and citrus. Consider your region and cultivate local species as well as throwing in a few “exotics.”
  • Try green-wall gardening and trellising. Hummingbirds love many of the vining flowers (honeysuckle, trumpet, jasmine, bougainvillea, wisteria) and birds may even start nesting in the trellis. Going “vertical” really adds to the space. If you have walls or fencing, affix some plantings to give a layered look and to send focal points upwards.
  • Try espalier! Many trees can be grown in this manner. Try giving grapevines a go.
  • Once you set up some varied green scaping, set your bird feeders and birdhouses into the foliage and onto the limbs. Connect hummingbird feeders to trellises. Stuff and hang nesting materials around the yard.
  • Birds prefer quiet areas. Block out noisy neighbors, traffic or busy areas by planting boxwoods and other hedges. Add sections of “noise” fence as well. Adorning them with ironwork and lattice, which will automatically improve the aesthetics while giving birds places to perch and preen, can soften these palisade fences.
  • Keep Fido and Muffins under control. Dogs can be dangerous and disturbing to wildlife and birds. Recent ornithology and ecology research has determined that cats are a predominant killer of wild birds. Be sure that the kitty has no access to birds and watch those free-roaming felines are not entering your property. It is always a good idea to keep birdhouses, feeders, and birdbaths at least five feet off the ground. Allow cover for the birds but do not leave “ambush” cover at ground level. Cats are stalk and surprise predators and low brush or other objects are used by them to launch attacks on birds.

Finding your personal style and gardening aesthetic is an exciting adventure. Doing it in the small space of urban and condo living just adds to the challenge – but making your spot of window or dirt an avian paradise is worth the effort! The rewards will be flying in.

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