Here in the beautiful Florida Keys, we have no shortage of tidal shoreline and coastal landscapes, in addition to some unique natural habitats. This provides a fantastic opportunity to observe many of nature’s beautiful creatures. Especially this time of year, when many migrating birds seek to rest and refuel in our National Wildlife Refuges, parks, open spaces, and gardens, as a last stop before continuing southward. However, in order to attract birds and other pollinators to our landscapes, there are certain elements we need to provide them.
Food, water, and shelter. By increasing the amount of plants in your yard that provide seeds, berries and fruits, as a food source, the more species of birds you will be able to attract. Native plants are an excellent option when considering expanding your plant pallet since they typically require a lower level of maintenance once they are established and are better adapted to our soil and climatic conditions. Some fantastic plants to consider here in the Keys would be, American Beautyberry, Christmasberry, Florida Privet, Jamaica Caper, Locustberry, Marlberry, Wild Sage, and Wild Coffee.
Adding bird feeders, in addition to increased plant diversity, can be another way to lure more of a variety of birds to your yard. However, it is important to keep bird feeders clean and free from disease by washing them at least twice a month with chlorine and water. Due to their porous nature, wood or cement feeders and baths should be washed with warm water only.
Water is an essential element to any wildlife habitat and can be as elaborate as a beautifully constructed pond, or a simple bird bath. It is important to keep the water clean and be mindful of possible breeding opportunities for mosquitos. Change the water frequently in a bird bath and to help control mosquitos in ponds, contact the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District for Gambusia fish.
Also, enhance vertical layering to increase shelter and nesting opportunities. This can be achieved by including a variety of sizes of plants from upper-story canopy trees such as Wild Tamarind, Paradise Tree, Jamaica Dogwood, and Gumbo Limbo; mid-canopy trees including our native Stoppers, Pigeon Plum, Sea Grape, Lignum Vitae, Fiddlewood; on down to the shrub and ground-cover layers. Provide snags and birdhouses for ‘cavity-nesting’ bird species. Snags are dead trees that birds will utilize for nests. You can have the tree pruned back to a safe height by an arborist.
Limit the amount of lawn. In general, lawns offer very little food and/or habitat for birds and pollinators. Increase the landscaped beds in your yard, try alternative ground covers such as Creeping Charlie, Pencilflower, Beach Creeper, and Beach Sunflower. Or simply reduce mowing frequency to allow the grass to seed.
Remove Invasive Plants. Invasive plants can aggressively take over a landscape and expand to natural areas, reducing and/or eliminating native ecosystems. In fact, more wildlife habitat loss is due to invasive plant expansion than development. Consider removing plants such as Brazilian Pepper (formerly called Florida Holly), Beach Naupaka, Snake Plant, and Lead Tree and replace with native plant species.
Reduce pesticide use. In addition to fruits and berries, many birds diet consists of insects, especially for feeding their young. Most pesticides when used, kill a broad range of insects. So in addition to harming beneficial insects, it also eliminates a food source for our feathered friends.
Try to establish a reasonable threshold of insect presence and/or feeding activity you are willing to accommodate. Instead of reaching for pesticides, try pruning off plant limbs with excessive pest presence or spot treat with products that have low toxicity to beneficial insects and the environment, such as horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
Not only are birds beautiful to observe, they provide a valuable service, helping control unwanted pests. By providing these elements and attracting birds, you are connecting your landscape to larger areas of wildlife habitat and the reward will be observing some of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts.