The title of this article might make one wonder what a “natural” bird feeder is. Could it be a bird feeder made from a log? Maybe it is a pine cone slathered with peanut butter and rolled in seeds? Is it a <gulp!> predator of birds?
Think more natural. What has been around feeding birds since the beginning of time?
That’s right; dried dead flowers that keep their stems and seed heads through the winter.
Not every flower will work in this capacity. Some birds like to feed on the ground, while others will refuse to land on the ground and prefer to cling onto the stiff stem while plucking seeds from the flower head. The interesting thing is that the birds feeding on the top breaks free seeds that fall for the ones on the ground. It turns into a partnership and the ground feeders are all too eager to follow behind the stem clingers.
The three flowers that I plant for the birds are anise, coneflower, and bee balm. The coneflower can take a lot of wind and continue to stand up for a long time. The anise stem is not as strong, but if planted en masse, will do very well by keeping the group upright. The bee balm will not last through the winter, mostly because the birds hit it well before winter. In-fact, it is near impossible to beat the birds to the seeds if you are trying to collect them. You would need to bag the heads just after the petals wilt in order to get seeds.
These plants are colorful additions to your flower gardens and landscaping. Because they carry a lot of seeds, they will self-seed and give you volunteer plants. Some people welcome this to establish a thicket of flowers, while others might not. The coneflower seeds will not germinate as readily as the anise. Anise might be a little fickle in where they will want to grow. They generally do okay where you plant them, but when they self-seed, they will begin to find places that they prefer. I simply let them find their favorite spot and then I let them keep it. And while the plants mentioned do self-seed, it really is not a problem to pull out the seedlings early in the spring.
All three plants are perennial and will come back in the spring. The anise is not as reliable for making it through the winter, but if you keep them in a cluster, they will self-seed and be self-perpetuating, so it will not matter.
Bee balm does not self-seed as readily from my experience. With that being said, I know mine is not in its preferred location and rarely will a seed make it to the ground before a bird will eat it. It does keep coming back year after year, but I can tell that it is not as vigorous each year that goes by. It may need to be divided ever few years or have new plants started. I may move my bee balm to a new location to see if it grows more vigorously. And that is the interesting thing about plants; like humans, they have their individual preferences.
Another benefit from bee balm and anise is that you can dry the leaves and use it to make herbal tea. I use them regularly.
The mid-size birds will feed from the bee balm and the smaller birds will feed from the cone flower and anise. It is fun to watch them from the window, so be sure to plant some of these flowers where you can watch them from your living room or kitchen windows. It is great winter entertainment. Furthermore, the birds that are attracted to your natural bird feeders seldom are a problem for your berries in the warmer months.
Here is a list of plants that flower, providing seed heads for over-wintering birds:
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