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August 01, 2013   Email to Friend 

Alabama Gardener
Lois Chaplin, Contributing Writer

Alabama is blessed with many species of birds that gardeners often befriend, and it’s rewarding to know what is flying around the garden.

The Alabama Ornithological Society (AOS) states more than 400 species of birds have been found in Alabama; about a third are regular residents, while the balance are migrants or winter residents (the real snowbirds). That’s about half of all species recognized by the American Birding Association for the entire U.S.

My late mother-in-law introduced me to birding and often extended invitations to attend Audubon workshops. Binoculars in her car also identified her as a dedicated birder.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says to be a birder one must have either taken a trip a mile or more from home for the purpose of identifying birds or tried to identify birds around the home. Regardless of whether someone officially qualifies as a birder, most gardeners are simply curious to know what bird is singing in the trees or maybe pecking at tomatoes.

There are many ways to learn. One great resource published by the AOS is a book, A Birder’s Guide to Alabama, available at Amazon.com. There are many online sources, too. Two particularly easy to use for picture and song identification are the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (allaboutbirds.org) and BirdJam.com. Many observers know a cardinal or a hummingbird by sight, but it’s more difficult to identify them just by hearing their songs and calls.

For gardeners whose curiosity leads to becoming an official birder, Alabama is a fabulous place. All of Dauphin Island is a bird sanctuary, making it a great place to visit, especially during fall and spring migrations of birds that stop there on the way to or from Central America. In fact, the island has been named one of the top-10 birding spots in all of the U.S.

The coast also hosts a birding festival each fall that includes activities for all ages. For more information go to AlabamaCoastalBirdfest.com.

Alabama has dozens of birding sites around the state, and more are planned as part of an organized trail. Trails include the North Alabama Trail at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur (fws.gov/wheeler), which is home to lots of songbirds. It is especially rich in inland waterfowl. The state’s trails link a number of sites organized as part of a growing system in these regions: North, West, Piedmont, Appalachian Highlands, Black Belt, Piney Woods, Wiregrass and Coastal. More details can be found at AlabamaBirdingTrails.com, a joint project of state, federal and private organizations.

Back in the garden, there is still time to hang hummingbird feeders. Buying nectar isn’t necessary. Instead, use a homemade mix of simple syrup that’s 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Change the water if the feeder gets cloudy.

Hummingbirds are attracted to many nectar-rich garden flowers such as pineapple sage and other salvias, agastache, penstemon, four-o’clocks, pentas, verbena and bee balm. Easy-to-grow woody plants they really like include abelia, vitex and butterfly bush.

A garden full of nectar flowers not only attracts hummingbirds, but bees that pollinate fruit and vegetables enjoy them, too.

Lois Chaplin is an accomplished gardener and author. Her work appears here courtesy of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.


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