Thom Smith: Tips to entice birds, pollinators to your yard


Before I begin, I wish my neighbor, Ron Kujawski, on this page during the growing season, a restful winter! I will miss his Garden Journal and look forward to its return next spring.


Q: Recently, I have installed a squirrel-proof feeder outside of my second-floor window and filled it with a deluxe blend of wild bird food. I was hoping to attract cardinals, finches, chickadees, titmice juncos, etc., as all those breeds are in the woods surrounding my home. I put the feeder up approximately two months ago and, to date, I have not had a single bird visit. I even put seed on the ground below and surrounds. Is there something else that I should be doing to attract birds to the feeder, and have I perhaps not waited long enough for them to discover it?

— Christine B., Stockbridge

A: Sometimes, it takes more than patience to attract birds, but as soon as the feeder is discovered, the word gets around somehow. My first, and probably best, suggestion is to move the feeder closer to shrubs or trees, where the birds may already be scrounging for food. It won't take long after they see the feeder to investigate, and when they find it a ready source of food and become familiar with it, move it closer to your house. Keep this up until they are comfortable with it near your window.

If you have fed birds before at this location, hang the feeder there with the old feeder, if possible. Once they realize the new feeder is what it is and is safe, move it to the new location and a day or two later, remove the old feeder. They will know what to look for. Another thought, change the food from the blend to black oil seed and safflower seed mix, these are two favorite seeds that may catch a bird's eye, and that is all it takes. Also, keep the shades or blinds drawn or open only a crack. The activity inside may be keeping the visitors at a distance.

Q: I know it is late in the season, but I have planted perennials late in the season with success, and wanted to transplant first year swamp milkweed that I just had found. I'll let you know how it works. What are the best native wildflowers or garden varieties that attract pollinators that I might still find to plant at greenhouses and places like Whitney's? I probably will get them at great prices.

— Fran, Adams

A: In pollinator gardens, blossoms are the feature. I just replanted both swamp milkweed and butterfly (milk) weed last week for both blossoms and leaves, and not being a skilled gardener, can only hope. As for the top blossoms for pollinators and other beneficial insects, I have long followed a suggestion I got from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: asters, coneflowers, goldenrods, tickseeds (coreopsis) and sunflowers. For the most part, composites are among the best. And not only the plants we grow for flowers, but also mints and herbs. If you enjoy raising your own herbs, for instance, allow one or two of the following species to mature, leaving them alone for the entire season; don't trim and let them do as they wish, and most importantly, let them blossom.

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- Parsley, will attract a variety of insects, including black swallowtails.

- Cilantro is an important plant if you have problems with aphids. It attracts aphid-eating syrphid flies.

- Dill also attracts black swallowtails and lacewings.

- I would also add mints. All summer, the few varieties we grow were covered with small files and wasps.

One I plan to plant next season and let flower is lovage (a rare native plant) sold at nurseries, although, I have never been interested in it, so I never looked for it before. If you can still find one locally, plant it now and mulch well. It can be treated as a perennial and, for most purposes, can be described as a giant celery. I have never grown it, but it can rival the giant sunflower in height. It attracts swallowtail butterflies and tiny wasps.

Q: You mentioned in a recent column that you rarely see blue jays. Come to my yard — recently, there have been several every day. So, I put out a feeder with cracked corn. They love it. Can you suggest anything else?

— Jennifer, West Stockbridge

A: To answer your question, peanuts may well be their all-time favorite treat, either in the shell or shucked; they will always go for peanuts first. Other choices besides corn, in any form, are acorns, sunflower seeds and suet.

I was out walking yesterday down to the pond at Wild Acres in Pittsfield, thanks to Lucy Norris St. James, who showed me the way. After I had driven up and down South Mountain Road without finding a sign, I stopped by Lucy's home and asked for directions. Rather than giving me directions she brought me there! I learned that it is safer taking Barker Road rather than South Street to get on South Mountain Road. At least there is a sign clearly visible from that end.

Anyway, there must have been a migration of blue jays there. I saw them not far off and heard them clearly. And over the weekend, my wife, Susan, called me to look out the window. There was a blue jay in our yard. So, they are around.


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