Using leaf litter to attract birds is an easy and environmentally friendly way to naturally recycle material and meet all of a bird's basic needs. Instead of throwing leaf litter away, use it as a bounty for the birds.
What Is Leaf Litter
Leaf litter is composed of several different materials, the most obvious of which is fallen, decaying leaves from deciduous trees. Other organic material, such as small twigs, dead plant stems and fallen nuts, berries and fruits are also part of leaf litter. In many communities, this material is collected and discarded every autumn to keep landscaping "neat" but leaf litter is vital to birds' habitat and needs.
Meeting Birds' Needs With Leaf Litter
Leaf litter may be simple, but it can easily meet all of a bird's basic needs.
- Food: Many insects, including flies and spiders, thrive on leaf litter, and insect-eating birds can feast on the bounty. Other small creatures such as earthworms, salamanders and toads also enjoy leaf litter and can be food for birds, as can the berries, fruits and nuts that collect with the leaves. Some birds, such as jays, will also cache seeds and nuts in leaf litter for later use.
- Water: The moisture that collects in fallen leaves can be an important water source for ground-dwelling birds. If enough water collects, the birds may drink from puddles in the leaves, and many birds will bathe in the dew that collects on leaf litter.
- Shelter: Leaf litter provides important shelter and camouflage for ground birds while they are roosting or foraging. This helps protect the birds from predators, and a layer of leaf litter can provide insulation against storms and temperature changes that can be fatal to exposed birds.
- Nesting Sites: Ground nesting birds choose areas rich in leaf litter to raise their young because of the shelter and food available in the fallen leaves. Many other bird species will pick through leaf litter for nesting materials such as twigs, leaf stems and mosses.
Free and easy to use, leaf litter can simply be collected from nearby trees or even scrounged from neighbors' yards to add to your own landscaping and provide for all your backyard birds' basic needs.
Birds That Feed in Leaf Litter
In North America alone, more than 120 birds have been observed feeding in or otherwise making use of leaf litter. Some of the most popular species that depend on fallen leaves for rich food sources include:
- Common yellowthroats and other ground warblers
- Dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows and other ground feeding sparrows
- Towhees, including the spotted, eastern and green-tailed species
- Northern mockingbirds
- Thrashers such as California and crissal thrashers
- Jays and other corvids that eat insects and cache nuts
- Large thrushes such as the American robin, hermit thrush and veery
- Game birds such as wild turkeys, quail and pheasants
More Leaf Litter Benefits
In addition to being useful to birds, leaf litter also has other great benefits.
- Cost: Instead of buying mulch and fertilizer, leaf litter can be used as free, natural soil supplements for gardens, flower beds and landscaping.
- Ease: Save hours of labor involved in raking and disposing of leaf litter by simply letting it decay naturally.
- Insulation: Leaf litter will insulate and nourish the roots of plants and trees, keeping them healthier and stronger.
- Environmentally Friendly: Thousands of tons of decaying leaves are added to landfills every year, but using leaf litter instead helps recycle material naturally.
With benefits to birds, landscaping and the environment, leaf litter is a valuable material that will attract birds, meet their basic needs and encourage them to stay in bird-friendly landscaping.
Photo – White-Crowned Sparrow © Jean