You don’t have to do too much to attract wildlife to your garden. Basically if you build it they will come. Certain plant families are have a lot to offer different types of wildlife though. Salvias and any Asteraceae are sure things to attract a wide range of little beasties. Hummingbirds and bees love Salvia nectar and finches enjoy the seeds. Butterflies and bees love plants in the Aster family and once again finches and other birds love the seeds.
Of course bird feeders are helpful too. Bird feeders and seed are pretty expensive though. A nyjer/thistle feeder is probably the most affordable route to go as the seed generally lasts a long time and usually only small finches are attracted to it and can fit on the feeders. Shelled sunflower seeds are an excellent way to attract birds too. I prefer getting the shelled or hulled seeds because the shells make a huge mess in the garden that can prohibit plant growth. Again this makes it more expensive so now I use a cheaper “no mess” mix. I prefer the ones that include things like millet rather than large seeds and nuts.
This male lesser goldfinch is enjoying my Salvia confertiflora. Large flocks come to the feeders but they enjoy my Salvias, Verbena, and Tithonia too.
Female lesser goldfinch hanging out on Verbena bonariensis (could be an American goldfinch. But I think most of my goldfinches are the lesser variety. Hard to tell when they don’t have their breeding plumage).
And another goldfinch rooting around in a Verbena bonariensis looking for seeds. Or perhaps they like the nectar too. I’m not really sure.
I was about to head outside into the garden when I got a bit of a shock. Hawks usually pick a higher vantage point like the top of a tree or telephone pole to survey my yard but this young Cooper’s hawk sat himself down on my fence right near my feeder.
Maybe he was hoping that if he stood perfectly still some yummy little finch would land right next to him. Alas a crow soon did see him waiting here and chased him off. The number one way I notice hawks in my yard is I hear crows and other birds complaining about them. Smaller birds mob large predatory birds when they get too close to their nests. It is a pretty funny thing to watch.
This male Anna’s hummingbird owns my yard. He sits on this Yucca (the tallest thing in my yard) watching for rivals to chase away from his plants. In the next yard another hummingbird watches from a Myoporum and across the street one sits on a tall Cedar. They all sit singing their little hummingbird songs as if daring each other to overstep their bounds.
I finally have monarch caterpillars on my Asclepias curassavica (and some little bright orange Asclepias aphids if you look closely). I purposely planted this food source to entice monarchs into laying their eggs in my yard but I think it was the Tithonia rotundifolia that really lured them in.
Monarch caterpillars go through 5 different molts (called instars) before they form a chrysalis. I think the little one on the left is a 2nd or 3rd instar and the big guy is a 4th or 5th instar. I’ll be keeping an eye on them the next few weeks.
I was thrilled that a big flock of bushtits was hanging out in my garden this afternoon (warning – do not Google bushtit with safe search off). They are the sweetest little birds. I was even happier when I managed to get this picture of one of them on a Fuchsia stem next to some Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’. They don’t stay still for very long.
A juvenile white crowned sparrow hanging out on some dried up Tithonia rotundifolia. The Tithonia looks pretty ugly when it starts to die but it is important to leave annuals in the garden as long as you can. The longer you can put up with it looking like crap the more birds you will attract and the more seedlings you will have next season.
In my next garden I’m definitely going to try to grow my fruit bearing shrubs and trees to attract a broader range of birds. A water source, particularly moving water is great for attracting birds too so I will probably get some sort of bubbling fountain. But considering how little life there was in my yard before I started this garden and now it is home to dozens of birds I think I am off to a good start.