Bring the Birds in Closer

Pat Ward grabbed our attention when he exclaimed that he saw hundreds of birds in all varieties on his property as he drove away from his home last Friday. He and his wife, Barb, have transformed their property, which was once a 50-acre alfalfa field, into a haven for the Nuthatches, Wood Thrush, Goldfinches, Wrens, Woodpeckers, Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Common Redpoll, Bohemian Wax Wings, etc., etc., etc. Pat Ward teacher, nurseryman, scientist, published author, birder, husband, father and good friend to The Growing Place shared with us how to attract birds to our yards, at last Saturday’s class. He explained that birds come in closer when they can find shelter, food, and water throughout the year.

How Does He Do It?

He described the haven he has created as a house where the trees as the big pieces of furniture offering shelter; the shrubs and vines as the chairs and smaller tables where birds can feed and hide from snow and rain; and the perennials, natives, and annuals as the decorations that bring other pollinators and provide food. Pat doesn’t cut down his perennials in the fall because he knows that the birds will love the seed buffet and the shelter they leave behind.

Pat finds Blue Jays and various Thrushes layered in his Oaks (Quercus). “Oaks are not as slow growing as people think and more needed to be planted in our landscapes for the future generations.”. Red Oaks, Bur Oaks, White Oaks all adapt well to our soil and urban pollution, offering majestic habitats for birds and butterflies. Woodpeckers and deer especially love their acorns. Hackberry (Celtis) known for its fast growth and corky ridged bark, offers great refuge for birds and winter interest. The hummingbird’s first stop in the spring is the Red Buckeye (Aesculus) and in May they will flock to the 6”-7” tall stalk flowers.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier) is one of Pat’s favorite trees as it is densely branched serving as a low-level shelter tree. It’s also a great food source, providing edible purplish-blue berries in June, attracting Baltimore Orioles and Wood Thrush. The Serviceberry, ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is the first to bloom in April and has berries that turn apple red in summer hosting a buffet Robin’s can’t resist.

The Drive-In is Open

Pat brings the birds even closer in the winter with feeders and several shallow water sources that he warms with electric coil heaters. He scatters cracked corn on the ground, “a favorite of the Redheaded Woodpeckers”. And he hangs feeders of suet, black oiled sunflower, hulled sunflower, safflower seeds, millet, red and white peanut splits, and nyjer/thistle. He continues to fill his feeders in the summer so that he gets a chance for the birds to bring their young and feels that humans feeding the birds does not impact their ability to forage for themselves.

In summer he feeds the butterflies with saucers of fresh orange slices. Pat’s wife, Barb, shared that her foolproof hummingbird nectar is just simple syrup of equal parts of warm water and sugar. She heats the water and stirs until the sugar is dissolved, allows it to cool, and then pours in her feeder. She uses no food coloring.

What Can We Do Now?

Pat recommends having a reliable water source for the birds in the winter and providing the birds with seeds either scattered on the ground or hanging in simple feeders.

Now is the time to clean out your birdhouses for the good health of your birds. Male wrens wait for their female mates to pick a place to nest. They will fill 3-4 houses to “save” them as they wait for their mates to make a choice. Be sure to wear gloves and throw away the debris from inside the birdhouse. Cleaning them now will give every bird equal chance to house with you this spring!

A resource that Pat uses is IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) Find them at This group posts daily messages of bird sightings’ and feeder successes.

Winter is the perfect time to plan for spring planting. Do you need to add some trees (big furniture, as Pat refers to them), shrubs and bushes (chairs and tables) or maybe some natives and perennial decorations to entice those birds and bring them in closer?

Aurora Location

2000 Montgomery Road,

Aurora, IL 60504

Phone. 630-820-8088

Naperville Location

25w471 Plank Road,

Naperville, IL 60563

Phone. 630-355-4000

Spring Hours

March 30-June 30

Monday-Friday: 9am-7pm

Saturday: 9am-5pm

Sunday: 11am-5pm

Memorial Day Hours

Monday, May 27


Growing for the future with
right plantsĀ in right places.