Category Archives: Birds

Bird Lessons from the Soulful Gardener

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Did you know that domestic cats kill more birds than insecticides? That’s the story from the American Bird Conservancy.

It’s news to me. I thought letting the cat out was a rather harmless activity. I found out the Bird Conservancy has a “Cat Indoor Campaign” in which owners sign on to keep the cat indoors. Of course it’s only half the problem because there are many unowned cats roaming the countryside and feral cat communities that contribute to the slaughter of about 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States alone.

I was lucky to be a guest at the May meeting of the Master Gardeners of the Eastern Shore. The speaker was Heather Zindash, a Certified Professional Horticulturalist. She spoke to us about the need to keep the birds in mind when planning a garden. Her website, The Soulful Gardener is a “gardening and therapy-through-horticulture stopping place to help connect people with gardening and nature.”


Heather was a font of bird and garden information. I’d never heard of “nature deficit disorder.” Now I know there’s a name to the epidemic of time spent staring at a screen be it cell phone, tablet, computer or television. Connecting our children to the outdoors sounds like a preeminent goal for parents.

She talked about birds being “biological indicators”. Remember the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  Birds need much more oxygen than humans because of all the flying they do.  Therefore they are bioindicators, detecting toxic gases before we do. The state of their health is a good forewarning of environmental decline because they carry measurable toxins in their feathers.

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As gardeners we should consider the three elements needed to attract birds to our gardens: food, water and shelter. All we need to think about are berries, nuts, seeds and nectar for our feathered friends and water in the form of bird baths, ponds, creek or rain gardens. Adequate shelter would be our shrubs, evergreens and thickets. Pay attention to these three elements and the birds will reward you as a natural insecticide. The circle of life will be complete.

Heather talked about the Christmas Bird Count, the longest running citizen science project, sponsored by the National Audubon Society. It’s been going on for over a century.  Every year the count runs from December 14 through January 5. To participate check the Audubon page for a circle of counters near you. This is not a count that you do on your own, you must officially join a circle.

Possibly many of the master gardeners already have much of this bird information in their heads, but Heather loaded me up with new knowledge of the importance of birds in our gardens.

Who Knew? Tax Day is for the Birds


hummingbird 1Maureen Kennedy spoke to our garden club this week. She said the easiest way to remember is tax day. Put out your hummingbird feeders on April 15. Any earlier in the Mid-Atlantic and you are wasting your sugar water.

Kennedy is the owner of My Backyard, a shop in Ocean Pines, Maryland dedicated to her love of hummingbirds. She sells all sorts of feeders, bird houses, bird baths, flags and even gift items such as local honey and handmade soap. She shared her vast knowledge of these littlest of birds. They are so tiny; they weigh about as much as a penny. They fly through the air at a top speed of 60 mph, beating their wings about 80 times a second. They need a lot of food for all that exercise and for their long migration down to South America each winter. You will not see flocks of hummingbirds on the migration trail. These beautiful feathered creatures may look romantic, but they don’t mate for life. They’re loners, making that extensive trip solo. They have feet but can’t walk. These are meant only to get a grip on their perch. It’s good to get a feeder with a landing spot, as it gives them a rest.

hummingbird 3Hummers have excellent vision and are attracted to flowers by sight. They are partial to bright reds and yellows.  Scents won’t attract them because they have no sense of smell. Think salvia, butterfly weed, cardinal flower, scarlet bee balm, trumpet vine, honeysuckle, columbines, daylilies, and lupines; biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and many annuals, including cleomes, impatiens, fuschias and petunias. Their long beaks are capable of getting way into tubular flowers for extra large doses of pollen.

Their tongues can thrust three inches out to lap up your sugar water. No sucking, just lapping with tongues made especially for that purpose. They definitely have a sweet tooth, but need protein for energy. You can help by putting an apple in a separate feeder. They won’t go for the apple, but will choose the fruit flies that the apple attracts. That’s their protein. When they fly they keep their beaks open. It’s like a non-stop net that scoops up tiny insects all day long.

If they like your feeder, they will remember your location and return and teach their young to find you too. They lay one to three eggs twice a season. The chicks break out of the shells in thirteen to twenty-two days and are gone from the nest by thirty days or sooner. They will never return to that tiny nest their mother so carefully made of plant fiber and spider silk.

Remember the new reason to look forward to tax day.


My Backyard is at the Southgate, Ocean Pines and on the web at

You can find out everything about hummingbirds at