Botanical gardens are most known for their beautifully landscaped grounds and lavishly themed gardens. But did you know they are also superb places to watch birds? These gardens provide green space and water where birds can rest, feed, bathe and drink. To make these public places even more attractive to birds and bird-watchers, garden staff and volunteers are creating native gardens, erecting man-made nesting boxes, leading nature walks and teaching classes on gardening for birds. Here are a few places where you can blend your love of botanical and avian treasures.
Tohono Chul Park lies within the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona. This park provides easy walking trails and gardens to view some of the 140 bird species that visit the 49-acre site. A hummingbird garden attracts Costa’s and Anna’s hummingbirds year-round to sip nectar from salvia, desert willow and other plants. The Wildlife Garden features saguaro cacti where Gila woodpeckers build nests in spring.
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, features a Desert Wildflower Loop Trail where you can view exhibits on wildflowers while watching hummingbirds. Greater roadrunners nest in candelabracactiin the OttosenEntry Garden. Bird lovers will especially enjoy the guided bird walks, which are held nearly every Monday at the 140-acre site.
West Coast Gardens
Established as a teaching, living plant museum, the University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens has hosted 200 bird species within four miles of trails winding through native riparian habitats and exotic gardens. In spring, hooded orioles visit the maroon blossoms of the honeybush in the South African garden. The online UCR Avian Project offers photos and details of bird species at the garden, located on the university campus.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, California, has attracted more than 150 species of birds to its 47 acres of coastal, marine and inland habitats. The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society leads early bird and beginning bird walks year-round.
Smithsonian Gardens Urban Bird Habitat in Washington, D.C., invites visitors to learn about birds that live in cities. Garden staff recently repurposed a dying lacebark pine tree into a nesting, foraging and roosting spot for birds like woodpeckers. Native prairie flowers provide seeds to hungry finches and other seedeaters. Signs offer information on avian ecology and ways to create backyard habitats for birds.
Avondale Park Rose and Habitat Garden is getting a little help from a program called the Urban Bird Habitat Initiative. This space in Birmingham, Alabama, is being upgraded with 84 planting beds to attract birds. Volunteers also have installed a prairie garden in the Birmingham Museum of Art Prairie Habitat, where birds feast on plant seeds.
Gardens for Migrants
Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, attracts waves of migratory songbirds, including sparrows and warblers in spring and fall. Key spots in the 385-acre garden include McDonald Woods, the Sensory Garden, the Picnic Glen and the Waterfall Garden. In winter, visit feeders at the Enabling Garden to observe pine siskins, common redpolls and other hardy birds.
Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, hosts birding tours year-round focusing on migrants, like ring-necked ducks and Northern pintails, that stop by the wetlands in March, and warblers that pass through in April and May.
Best Birding Trails
Huntsville Gardens’ Lewis Birding Trail in Huntsville, Alabama, meanders past Little Smith Lake, an active purple martin colony, a bluebird trail and feeder stations. The purple martins return each spring and can be seen flying in and out of man-made nest boxes and feeding their noisy young. A local birder created the trail for visitors to learn more about the birds that inhabit the garden.
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, features the James A. Kushlan Bird Walk, named after an ornithologist who leads a bird conservation program there. Go online to see a map of the two walking loops and which birds you can find at various stops. For example, the map shows two places where you can find the common hill myna, native to southeastern Asia, but now established in Florida. An annual bird festival is held in October, with talks and bird walks for adults and children.
Before visiting any botanical gardens, look online to learn which birds you can see and to find checklists, maps and other educational tools. Then grab your binoculars and head to the gardens!
Plants for the Birds
When visiting botanical gardens, notice the plants. If you live in that area, those plants can be used in your own yard. Here are suggestions from the Smithsonian Gardens Urban Bird Habitat:
- Blackhaw viburnum
- Wax myrtle
- Purple coneflower