Making memories and learning Mississippi native plants for attracting backyard birds

Published 2:10 pm Sunday, January 16, 2022

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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Have you ever stopped in your tracks when you heard a bird calling? Perhaps you have heard the unusual song of a wood thrush, a call of a jay, killdeer, owl, or another bird. Think back to your childhood – can you recall a moment you spent in nature that served to capture your heart, soul, and mind all at once. When more than just the visual senses are engaged, experiences can become firmly imprinted in our memory. There are many such opportunities waiting for visitors to the Crosby Arboretum.

At the end of the day, visitors may leave at the end of a day in our garden carrying new memories of the intricate beauty of a spider’s web, or silken parachutes of milkweed floss carrying seeds on the breeze, searching for new homes in the Savanna Exhibit. For others, new memories may include the ethereal beauty of a foggy early spring morning when the dew is glistening on newly formed “butter cup” blooms, the local term for the lemon-yellow pitcher plant flowers that will put on a spring show before the hollow leaves – the “pitchers” – appear.

Over the years with the Crosby Arboretum, I’ve gained many new experiences within the natural world, but the first trill of a wood thrush in the springtime will remain one of my favorites. You can hear the bird’s song by doing a quick search for websites featuring birdcalls that you can listen to and learn from. There are apps where you can play a short recording of a birdsong that you have heard, that can usually be identified. Visit one of these sites and decide which ones you prefer.

Persons who maintain hummingbird feeders know firsthand the noises that the activity of these tiny birds make as they zip around the feeders. I confess that I had never heard these marvelous sounds until only recently. It was such a treat to watch dozens of these birds on the wing on a visit to the home of a local bird lover. The sight was better than television!

Bird feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seed is a favorite mix. The seed may cost a bit more than a standard bird seed mix, but the seeds contain high amounts of protein, fiber, vitamin, and minerals, and are more highly preferred and very beneficial to birds than typical seed mixes that contain large amounts of millet and other “filler” seed.

Birds such as chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers are attracted to mixes that contain peanut butter and cornmeal. Species that prefer eating fruits include cedar waxwings, robins, and bluebirds. Raisins, apples, cranberries, and other dried fruits can be added to the mix, in addition to cracked sunflower seed, cracked corn, and oats. Dried fruit can also be soaked in water overnight and offered by itself to birds.

Although maintaining feeders can be rewarding to do, why not consider planting some native plant species that will provide year-round food sources. Plants also provide an additional benefit of shelter, and places to nest and raise young. Choose trees and shrubs with a high wildlife value such as winterberry holly, southern crabapple, sumac, wax myrtle, arrow-wood viburnum, white oak and Eastern red cedar.

Although native hollies such as inkberry, yaupon, and American holly appear to dominate the winter landscape, other plants have persistent fruit that provides winter food for birds and other wildlife. These include sumac, viburnum, magnolias, American beautyberry, chokeberry, and Virginia creeper.

Make plans to attend our Arbor Day Plant Sale on Saturday, February 12, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon (Members may enter the sale at 9:00 a.m.)  Plant professionals will be on hand to answer your questions about choosing plants that are suited to your property’s unique environmental conditions.

Children will learn about Mississippi’s venomous snakes on Sunday, January 23, 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith. Lifelike snake replicas will be used in the program. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Registration required. Program free for members; non-members’ children $3; non-member adults $5.

Our annual Forge Day is Saturday, January 29 from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Enjoy this chance to observe a day of blacksmithing and metalworking activities, and maybe even try your hand at the forge (waiver form required). To guarantee your place at the event, please call the office at 601-799-2311 to sign up.

For more information see our website<>.  For questions, call our office at 601-799-2311. We open at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday and entrance gates close at 4:00 p.m. and are located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. Leashed pets are always welcome!