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By Leigh Fulghum, Botanist & Landscape Designer

Working with South Florida homeowners in and around the yard, for what has become too many years to mention, I have never known an artificial birdfeeder to work better than a generous planting of properly located native trees, vines. Perhaps to a wild bird, seeds are somewhat common, gritty fare compared to a juicy native Florida fruit, because providing native fruits along with enough foliage for hiding and nesting is truly the key to attracting a variety of birds into the yard.

My experience with putting out birdseeds in Florida has been this. One day while attempting to enjoy a few moments with the butterflies in my lovely garden, I was startled to see a very long tail on the end of which was a rat, sucking volumes of seed material from the latest wildlife-proof bird feeder I had hung from the roof soffit.

The pest control operator insisted that the feeder come down.

"Seeds are a rat's favorite food, you know," he scoffed, almost with a belly laugh. "And this neighborhood has some of the biggest rats in the county."

There is no point in arguing with such men! The feeder was put away and I stored the seeds in a utility cabinet in the garage on the other end of the house.

A few months later, I called the Faith Farm to come pick up my donation of a sofa which was in the garage.

"Whoa, look at that big rat!" the driver exclaimed, as the couch was lifted.

Inside the cozy upholstery, was a huge mother, with a whole nest of babies, and some little lace Victorian fans which she had pilched from my Christmas decorations box. Upon inspecting the cabinet where I had stored the birdseeds I found the back of the cabinet had been gnawed to destruction, clear through the wall to which it was attached, and right into the seed bag. Outside where the varmint-proof feeder had once hung, a large hole was found chewed through the vent screen in the soffit. The devil had found its way through the crawl space under the roof across the house to the location of the cabinet, where he tunneled his way to those precious seeds.

Then, it is the way with rats to not just eat their fill and move along. It turns out there was more than one rat family which had taken up residence in my residence. Unbeknownst to we humans living below the crawl space, a virtual colony had established itself in our "Florida attic," dining on components of the security and air conditioning systems. We didn't know this until the intruders were so numerous as to be caught running down the hall in the middle of the night. By that time the damage had been done, and there was no choice but to call a rat professional. As a result of his work, all in all nineteen rats actually came out of the woodwork to perish in the house, with no telling how many had left to die elsewhere.

So whenever I tell this little story to my urban landscape clients who want to attract birds, most everyone is enthusiastic about using plants versus seeds for developing the bird element in their landscape design. Strategic use of native species for hedges, such as cocoplum, stoppers, or Forestiera provides an ample food source for birds. The plant palette can then be tempered with a few showy ornamentals and cultivars (ones which birds, bees, and butterflies also love) for fun, color and for blending the landscape into the plant composition of neighboring properties.

Here I have used inexpensive 3-D Landscape software to produce a sample landscape plan for a fairly typical south Florida lot of 100' x 75'. The design provides some tropical natives mixed other ornamental plants which are favored by birds and butterflies. With the exception of the Liriope and ferns used as shade groundcover, and the three beds of red Pentas which are used to attract birds as they fly overhead, all the plants are taken from the list found in "Landscaping to Attract Birds in South Florida" by Timothy K. Broschat and Stephen D. Verkade.

With the exception of mondo grass and ferns used as shade groundcover, and the three beds of red Pentas which are used to attract birds as they fly overhead, and for butterfly nectar, all the plants are taken from the list found in the IFAS publication "Landscaping to Attract Birds in South Florida" by Timothy K. Broschat and Stephen D. Verkade.

Renderings made with easy to use 3-D Landscape Software

Landscape Plan for Birds


Botanical Name
Common Name
Trees and Palms
Quercus virginiana
Live Oak
Coccoloba diversifolia
Pigeon Plum
Bursera simaruba
Gumbo Limbo
Roystonea elata
Royal Palm
Sabal palmetto
Cabbage Palm
Flowering Shrubs
Malpighia glabra
Barbados Cherry
Calliandra hematocephala 'Cherokee Rose'
Dwarf Powderpuff
Pentas lanceolata
Red Pentas
Chrysobalanus icaco
Myrcianthes fragrans
Simpson Stopper
Forestiera segregata
Florida privet
Ground Covers
Helianthus debilis
Beach Sunflower
Ophiopogon japonicus
Mondo Grass
Florida sword fern

Other: Birdbath or Fresh Water Source

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