Locals and Migrants: Autumn in the Habitat Garden
The white-crowned sparrows have come and gone. Their melancholy song marked the end of summer and the return of the autumn season. Golden-crowned sparrows, a female tanager and a male yellow rumped warbler turned up at the garden pond a few weeks ago. Cedar waxwings have shown up to bathe communally at the waterfall basin. It’s the season for these migratory birds and many others as they make a stopover to hunt for food, to stay awhile or continue on. They join our local residents in the hunt for fall’s bounty of seeds, nuts, and berries.
Native trees and shrubs not only provide these food sources, they also support a high number of insect species that birds feed on, which makes them essential to bird habitat. Coyote bush, for example, attracts hundreds of insect species. Many native shrubs provide berries—coffeeberry, toyon, blue elderberry, hollyleaf cherry (and other Prunus spp.), for example— for Northern mockingbirds, cedar waxwings and robins, omnivores that eat insects plus seeds, berries and nuts. Meanwhile, seed-eaters like the resident finches, California towhees and juncos are searching in the leaf litter that we leave under shrubs and trees where it falls. Leaves, flower petals and chopped up plant trimmings make excellent mulch that soaks up the rain and provides hiding places for insects, which also feed the leaf mulch foragers. Light leaf mulch (or bare soil) offers nesting sites to ground-nesting native bees. Beetle larvae also overwinter in the soil. Fall and winter are ideal seasons for planting natives; they will have the winter to grow deep roots for the long dry season. They will enhance the bird habitat value of any landscape.