Cover - anything that protects a bird from predators and weather - serves as the bird's home base. The farther a bird must venture from cover, the more vulnerable it is to predators. Therefore, it is important to place food and water near cover. This job can, in fact, be made easy by planting cover which can also be used for food. Birds like variety, and by using imagination when planting, cover can be arranged to please the human eye as well as to be functional.
During periods of wet, cold, or windy weather, birds seek cover. Natural storm shelters include evergreen thickets, deciduous trees (when in leaf), cavities in tree trunks, areas under thick mats of over hanging grass, spaces under eaves, or crevices in stone walls. If thickets are cleared away and trees with nesting cavities cut down, birds are robbed of natural cover protection.
Thick cover provides protection from predators as well as from the elements. Thorned plants such as the hawthorn tree or the bushy pyracantha discourage predatory birds and cats, allowing the songbird a quick escape. Hedges of holly, juniper, and blackberry bushes also offer concealment.
Thickets and evergreen clusters offer more than temporary refuge; they also provide places where birds can rest. Birds are not always foraging for food and water. Most of their day is spent resting and preening in the branches of a tree. Those plants which offer protection from predators also provide shade and rest during the day's inactive periods.
When planting cover, blend several species, sizes, and shapes. You have any number of options to choose from: hardwoods and conifers; vines, shrubs, and trees; grasses, flowers, and even weeds. If your yard is small, it might be wise to use mostly single speciman plants. But if you have a large area to work with, hedges, clumps, and feeding strips can be used. In a wooded area, a small clearing will add variety to your landscape.
Birds need cover in which to produce and raise their young. Each reproductive area must offer protection from the elements and be relatively safe. It must be either inaccessible to or well hidden from predators.
A hedge, thicket, or strip of untouched brush provides good nesting opportunities for a large number of birds. Holly, privet, hawthorn, and multipflora rose hedge contain excellent building sites, offer shelter and concealment, and provide escape routes. The numerous forks in the branches of these hedges provide underpinning for the first nest twigs.
Careful pruning at various heights can turn an unpromising hedge into an inviting nesting site. Prune hedges during early spring or fall so that they remain undisturbed during the breeding season. Once a bird has chosen a nesting site, do not "improve" the situation, or it might desert.