Gardening for Cavity-Nesting Birds

Cavity-nesting birds seek out the very habitats that tidy gardeners may be tempted to eliminate.  Old stumps, half-dead trees, and even very mature trees in need of a good pruning may be the very spots that provide nesting sites to bluebirds, woodpeckers, and others.  But if you do have the space in your garden, consider planting these native species, which not only provide nesting sites, but also attract insects that are a useful food source and support wildlife in a number of other ways.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is native to the Western United States and can reach over 100 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide.  Also called the Western yellow pine, this tree has orange bark and pine needles the range in color from chartreuse to deep green.

White fir (Abies concolor) is native to California and Oregon and may be familiar as a popular type of Christmas tree.  Although it can grow to over 100 feet tall, it is a slow grower that may only reach 20 to 30 feet in California.  The bluish needles and small cones make it a lovely ornamental specimen.
Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is another well-loved California native that does well throughout the West.  The tree reaches about 80 feet in height, but is much narrower, spreading to only about 12 feet. The fragrance makes it worthy of its name, but gardeners love it for the fact that it doesn’t mind heat, drought, or poor soil, and doesn’t require any pruning. Try it as a screen or a windbreak.

These solutions may not be feasible for urban gardeners or those of us with small suburban plots of land.  But there’s still a role for city gardeners to play.  We can support the preservation of these important tree species in our urban environment and in the wilderness.  Before we hire an arborist to take care of the trees we do have on our property, we can check with the local native plant society to find someone who is able to evaluate the tree not only from an aesthetic point of view, but also as a habitat.  And finally, nesting boxes are a wonderful addition to a small garden and do provide an alternative when mature trees aren’t nearby.