You don’t have to be an experienced bird watcher to enjoy feeding birds through the cold months of winter and early spring. Grow your own bird seed by adding native plants to perennial borders, or plant a few avian favorites in the back corner of your property. Most commercial bird seeds contain safflower, sunflower, millet and corn, but it’s easy to give birds year-round choices with native garden flowers, too.
The Standard Mix
Plant sunflowers and cone flowers in your flower garden or border in an area with full sun and well-drained soil. Use tiny cone flower in place of thistle seed for finches and sparrows. Cardinals, finches and chickadees prefer black seeded sunflowers, while Blue Jays and woodpeckers prefer striped-seeded varieties. Allow seed heads to dry before harvesting.
Raise safflower, a thistle-like forb that forms a base for many mixes, in a sunny, dry area away from the flower garden where it can grow up to 6 feet tall. Safflower prefers dry, well-drained soil and takes up to 150 days to mature. Cardinals prefer this seed.
Grow grasses like red millet and grain sorghum (milo) in a hot, dry area. Find seeds for proso millet and milo at farm supply centers, where they are sold for pasture forage. Harvest seeds from these grasses as soon as they form so they don’t invade your lawn.
Plant a few feed corn plants in your vegetable garden if your neighborhood association allows it. Sweet corn hybrids won’t dry properly. Dry and crack corn for all wild birds.
Sow annual cosmos, coreopsis and Mexican sunflower along with cone flowers in sunny spots in the garden to attract finches and wrens. Stop deadheading plants in late summer and allow them to go to seed. Collect the seed heads or leave them in the garden for winter visitors.
Supplement your perennial collection with plants birds love. Add “autumn joy” sedum; the red heads will persist into winter and provide treats for birds. Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia) is a native perennial cousin of the annual cone flower that finches and other small birds find irresistible. Blazing star (Liatris species) grows in partial shade and attracts finches.
Bring civilized relatives of pastureland plants into the garden. Dozens of varieties of sunflower varieties grow only 1 or 2 feet tall and produce seed in black or striped varieties. Crack sunflower seeds for smaller birds. Purple majesty millet (pennisetum glaucum) grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Grow it in sun or shade along a fence or in the back of a border.