British Columbia

Birding is back: backyard bird garden opens at VanDusen Garden

VanDusen Botanical Garden opened a new backyard bird garden this month, just in time for spring.

'Having birds in your yard is a sign of a healthy ecological situation,' says garden's executive director

Guy Pottinger, executive director of VanDusen Botanical Garden, stands in front of one of the brightly coloured birdhouses that can be used to watch the birds undetected. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Vancouver's VanDusen Botanical Garden aims to give urban birders a place to observe and learn about the creatures with a new backyard bird garden, which opened earlier this week. 

The garden, located where the previous children's garden used to be, is home to plants — from shrubs to perennials  — that attract birds and enhance their habitat.

"We have all kinds of birds — nuthatches, bushtits, chickadees, finches," said Guy Pottinger, executive director of VanDusen and a long-time gardener.

More grey-and-orange-coloured nuthatches are around VanDusen gardens than usual, Pottinger said, which might be due to the forest fires in Interior B.C. last summer that pushed them away.

The alarm call of songbirds like the chickadee is understood by other species (Vancouver Park Board)

Growing interest

Pottinger says there is a growing interest in birds among Vancouverites, which the Vancouver Park Board is tapping into.

"Gardening is trendy," he said. "Right now, people seem to be interested in providing habitat and having birds in your yard is a sign of a healthy ecological situation."

Birdwatching appeals to more than just the casual, weekend observer in Vancouver.

The International Ornithological Congress, one of the oldest and largest meetings for bird scientists in the world that occurs every four years, is being held in Vancouver this summer.

This year has also been dubbed as "Year of the Bird" by National Geographic to highlight the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that was signed 100 years ago.

"We are following the trends," Pottinger said.

Guy Pottinger says bird enthusiasts can learn what kind of plants to put in gardens to attract birds. Look for ones that have nectar, branches for cover or nesting areas he suggests. His favourite is the flowering currant. (Vancouver Park Board)

Introductory area

Unlike other areas of VanDusen Botanical Garden, the new backyard bird area is aimed at beginner birders.

There are benches to sit and observe the birds feeding, a poster of the various species that can be spotted around the garden and bright yellow, child-sized birdhouses to observe the birds undetected. 

"This is sort of an introductory area," Pottinger said. "The trained bird person can see the birds in the trees. This is for the non-trained bird person to get an introduction in birding."

The new garden opened March 1 and, throughout the coming month, two children can get in for free with a paid adult.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and The Early Edition