Bird-friendly landscaping designs often emphasize the need to minimize lawns and get rid of grass, but some grass can be beneficial for birds. Learning what types of grasses can help birds can help you plan a diverse and attractive landscape for all your avian visitors.
Making Your Lawn Bird-Friendly
A typical suburban turf lawn – well manicured, cut short and often heavily treated with chemical herbicides and insecticides – is the worst type of grass for birds, which is why much bird-friendly landscaping recommends minimizing lawns. Some turf lawn, however, can give ground-feeding birds a space for foraging, and many bird species will pick insects off the lawn. Jays will often cache nuts or seeds in a lawn, and birds like American robins can forage on a lawn for worms or snails. Birds will use grass clippings as nesting material, and an open space gives birds a field of view to watch for approaching predators.
While a turf lawn can be useful for birds, you can make it even better by:
- Minimizing the use of chemicals or opting for organic treatments when necessary.
- Allowing the grass to grow longer so it is stronger and healthier.
- Watering appropriately so the soil is not waterlogged and the root system is strong.
Any extra large lawn can be made smaller with larger flowerbeds, more trees and other plants for birds. Adding special grasses to those plantings is another way to design landscaping that will be easy to care for, attractive and bird-friendly.
Ornamental Grasses for Birds
Ornamental grasses can be either native or non-native varieties, but choosing native species will be easier for birds to recognize. Many birds will actively forage around any ornamental grasses, however, and because the majority of these plants are not invasive, any options can be great additions to your birdscaping.
Ornamental grasses typically grow in mounds or tufts and can be perfect for placement along fences, borders or near ponds to provide a screen that can make birds feel safe. Grouping the plants will create an even more secure space for birds to forage or nest, and they can easily be added to flowerbeds or other planting areas for more texture, height and visual interest. When the plants mature and send out seed heads, many sparrows, finches and quail will forage on the treat, and any birds may use the grasses for nesting material. Left intact in the winter, clumps of grass can also provide critical shelter when deciduous plants have shed their cover.
For backyard birders without much of a green thumb, ornamental grasses can be ideal. These are hardy plants that do not usually require extensive care, and they are resistant to both diseases and damaging insects. With many sizes, colors and blade shapes to choose from, there are ornamental grasses perfect for any landscape.
The most popular varieties of grasses that can appeal to birds include:
- Fountain grass
- Feather reed grass
- Blue fescue
- Foxtail millet
- Sea oats
- Canary grass
Grass Tips for Your Bird-Friendly Landscape
Regardless of the type of ornamental grass you may choose, be sure to take proper care of the plants so they will remain healthy and can be of best use to the birds.
- Choose both cool weather and warm weather grasses, so some plants will be at their best at all times of year.
- Plant ornamental grasses in full sun unless otherwise specified, and ideally plant them in clumps or groups to provide the best shelter for birds.
- Plan spacing and placement based on mature plant size, including height and spread, even if it will take several years for the grasses to reach that size.
- Till or loosen soil 5-8 inches deep before planting to allow roots to spread out and grow successfully.
- There is no need for fertilization except in very poor soil; grasses are hardy and adaptable to most soils.
- Water the plant well until the seeds sprout or the roots are well established.
- Allow mature seed heads to ripen for a natural bird feeding area, or trim off a few seed heads to save for winter bird feeding.
- Leave grass intact to provide winter shelter for birds, but trim the plant to the ground in the spring to encourage regrowth.
While a carefully tended, conscientious turf lawn can be suitable grass for birds, adding ornamental grasses to your landscape is another way to create bird-friendly landscaping that can provide food, shelter and nesting material for your feathered friends. With many varieties to choose from that require only minimal care and maintenance, grasses can be a fantastic addition to any backyard birder's landscape.
Photo – Ornamental Grass © Charles (Scott) Barnhill