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Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Outdoor Space

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Turning even the smallest outdoor space into a welcoming haven for birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies is not too hard to do, and is sure to bring you many hours of enjoyment year round. 

Birding is enjoyed by more than 45 million people across the United States. You can go birding just outside your door by planting a bird-friendly garden in your own outdoor space. The National Wildlife Federation has these simple tips for attracting birds to your home:

  • Provide water year-round with a simple birdbath. Be sure to change thewater every 2-3 days in summer. Place the water container about 10 feet from dense shrubs or other cover that predators may use. 
  • Select a variety of native plants that will offer year-round food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts, and nectar. Try to recreate the plant ecosystem native to your area. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide excellent cover through all seasons, if they are part of your local ecosystem. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state.
  • Offer food in feeders, which are great sources of supplemental food during winter when food is scarce. Feeders also enhance bird viewing opportunities from indoors during the colder months. There are many different types of feeders designed to offer different kinds of food, so choose the one that is right for your birding goals. Tube, hopper, or tray feeders are great for offering seeds. Nectar feeders attract hummingbirds and orioles. Suet can be offered in metal cages for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and insect-eating birds. Be sure to empty and wash the feeders regularly to prevent the spread of disease. Store birdseed in a container with a tight-fitting lid to keep it clean and dry. Seed can spoil if not stored properly. Metal containers will keep out rodents. 
  • If you want to attract hummingbirds, keep in mind that they can be territorial, so bird experts suggest at least 2 or 3 different feeders in different corners, if possible. Follow these tips from the National Wildlife Federation for mixing your own hummingbird feeder nectar:
    • Dissolve one part white sugar in four parts hot water. 
    • Boil the water if you plan to store the nectar in the refrigerator. 
    • Never use honey, which ferments easily, or artificial sweeteners, which have no food value for birds. Red food coloring is not recommended as it may be harmful to birds. 
    • Let the solution cool to room temperature before putting it in your feeder. You can store homemade nectar for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Once you fill your hummingbird feeder, don’t forget to empty, rinse, and refill it every two to three days (especially in warm weather) to prevent spoiling. This ensures that hummingbirds won’t become sick from drinking bad nectar. Once the birds know there is a regular supply of food, they’ll keep coming back.  

Did you know that hummingbirds use their thin beaks and long tongues to drink nectar from flowers? These tiny little birds especially love brightly colored tubular hanging flowers (red is their favorite), which are rich in the nectar. Cardinal flowers, salvia, columbine, and fuchsia are all good choices for attracting hummingbirds to the backyard patio. 

Brightly colored butterflies can also be a welcome addition to your outdoor space, not only because of their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers. The best way to attract butterflies is to incorporate plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. The insects need places to lay eggs, food plants for their larvae (caterpillars), places to form chrysalides, and nectar sources for adults.

  • Plant native flowering plants, which willprovide butterflies with the nectar or foliage they need as adults and caterpillars. Search for butterflies and their native host plants for your area on the National Wildlife Federation’s website.
  • Plant type and color is important; adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.
  • Plant good nectar sources in the sun.Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed only in the sun. 
  • Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span. Try to plant flowers for continuous bloom, so that when one plant stops blooming, another begins.
  • Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are marketed to kill insects. Don’t use these materials in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. 
  • Give them a place for puddling.Butterflies often congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” or drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. You can easily place coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of your habitat. Make sure to keep the sand moist.

Fairview Senior Living is in the process of a major upgrade to its internal courtyard that is expected to be completed by mid-summer 2023. The renovation will be a more resident-friendly area, explains Fairview CEO and Executive Director, Stephan Pazulski. “We will have new sidewalks and better access to patios. Our new landscaping will provide more shady spots for sitting, in addition to plantings that display beauty during all four seasons. Attracting butterflies, hummingbirds, and a variety of birds is a goal of the new plan, too, so that residents can enjoy the wildlife that is so prolific in New Hampshire.”

Written by Stacey Kendrick

Stacey has a masters degree in health promotion from the University of North Carolina. She has over 20 years of experience as a health educator and fitness professional. After a career at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Stacey has been continuing her passion for helping people live healthy lifestyles by freelance writing that is focused on health, wellness and nutrition.
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