By Mariette Nowak (Itchy Cat Press, 2007)
I’m not a big-time birder myself, but I have a friend who is, and I’ve learned enough over the years from conversations with her and her husband and posts on her blog to have an appreciation for birds, their diverse beauty and their place in the environment. The presence or absence of birds (as well as bees and butterflies) in a yard seems like a good measure of the overall health of the environment you have nurtured. If birds want to nest in your trees, eat the bugs from your yard or garden, munch on the berries you grow and hide out in your shrubs – you must be doing something right.
Birdscaping in the Midwest is not the only book available on gardening for birds, bees and butterflies – far from it. A couple of others that I like are the Xerces Society’s Attracting Native Pollinators and Best Ever Backyard Birding Tips, by Deborah Martin. What is most appealing about Nowak’s birdscaping book is its focus on the Midwest, which she defines as everything east from Ohio to Minnesota and north from Missouri to the Canadian border. She also brings great detail to the topic.
This well-illustrated guide encourages a deep understanding of birds and their needs. Nowak recommends using native plants entirely and learning about the plants and birds of the specific eco-region in which you live. The book offers plant lists, of course, but also sample garden designs, maps, photographs and descriptions of sample bird gardens, and an in-depth description of the various bird garden types. My location near a pond in an area that is on the border of the savannah and the prairie means I could plant for prairie birds, such as the chickadees and sparrows we see frequently, or for the waterfowl that come through our area at migration time. I could use her hummingbird designs to attract more hummers or follow the guides for attracting winter birds to bring more year-round birds to the yard. The choices are plentiful, and Nowak gives you enough information to ensure success.
While the book has lots of depth, it’s never overwhelming, which I attribute to the design of the book with photos, graphics, pull-out sections and lists throughout. My only quibble with Birdscaping in the Midwest is that it is printed on very shiny paper, which I found difficult to read for long stretches. I expect to be nipping in and out of it all winter as I plan a new garden area that will be for the birds.
Tomorrow: Home Outside