Is there a particular bird that you long to watch at close range in your garden? For me, it’s the rose-breasted grosbeak. In this post, I’ll share the story of my quest, along with a couple of takeaways that might be helpful for you.
Photo Credit: Johnathan Nightingale
The story begins with the purchase of a book called Bird-by-Bird Gardening, by Sally Roth.
(If my husband is reading this, he’ll be shaking his head at the connection between a book and my getting an attack of not-altogether-well-thought-out enthusiasm – this is not an isolated incident! Sorry, honey. Thank you for loving me anyway. ❤️)
Now, this particular book is divided up by bird families – woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, and so forth. The various chapters share hints for making birds of a particular family feel right at home in your yard.
I don’t quite agree with all of the author’s reasoning regarding native versus exotic plants. And I definitely don’t agree with the fact that some of the bird family garden plans include plants that are considered invasive across wide swaths of the U.S. If it wasn’t for this last point, I’d recommend Bird-by-Bird Gardening, because otherwise, it’s a good book.
In any case, having read it through, I shared the ideas with my family. One of the kids hoped we could attract brown thrashers, the other wanted bluebirds. My husband set his sights on orioles. And I had my heart set on the rose-breasted grosbeak.
Range Map Reality
These weren’t insane hopes, mind you. It’s not like we were trying to entice a roadrunner from the desert Southwest to New England. Our location shows up well within the range maps for all of these birds.
But here’s a little suggestion from the author which I completely glossed over: Set up a feeding station as a way to learn what birds are already in your immediate area. Once you know who’s living close enough to include your yard as a regular stopover, start planning your yard to make them feel right at home.
In other words, we’re talking more along the lines of, “They come and you will build it,” rather than the reverse.
In point of fact, in the whole of his life, my husband has seen a rose-breasted grosbeak in our zip code exactly once. And he’s a sharp-eyed and enthusiastic birder. I have seen a rose-breasted grosbeak in the flesh exactly zero times to date . . . anywhere.
Range maps aside, they just aren’t very common where we live, apparently.
A Basis for Hope
This is not to say there’s no hope.
Friends within six miles of us (less, if you’re flying) got regular visits to their feeder by a rose-breasted grosbeak pair last year. They have photographs to prove it. 😍
So there are birds not all that far away.
And I really went all out in my efforts. Favorite fruiting plants? Check. Oft-used nesting plants? Check.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks could show up yet. We went years without visits from bluebirds and then late this winter, enjoyed daily visits from a little flock for weeks.
Maybe it’ll be years before we see these longed-for birds.
Maybe we never will – at least not in our yard.
Meanwhile, whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoy the cardinals, robins, song sparrows, blue jays, chickadees, and more that live here in abundance.
And my heart always thrills to the lilting song and rattlesnake chirrr-ing of our Carolina wrens. Their exuberantly splashy visits to the bird bath are particularly endearing. Whatever they do, it’s done with great gusto.
Knowledge is power.
If there’s a particular bird you’d like to attract, are you within its range map, at least seasonally?
Once you know that, get to know its preferred habitat. Realistically assess the context of your yard against the parameters of the bird’s preferences.
For example, you might attract a scarlet tanager on migration with favorite foods (flowering dogwood berries being one contender). But you’re highly unlikely to attract a nesting pair unless you live within a sizeable oak forest.
What are favorite foods? Are there any favorite nesting sites?
And most of all, know yourself. How quickly do you need to see results to feel happy? Do you want a safe bet or are you comfortable with a long shot?
I won’t lie. I did go through a period of some disappointment because I was just so sure that my energy, enthusiasm, and efforts would quickly bring about the desired result.
On the other hand, it wasn’t long before I was buoyed up again because of all the beautiful and interesting things that I do get to see every day.
How about you? If you’re willing to share . . .
How do you cultivate patience when you have to wait for results you can’t control?