Wild Song Birds — Bathing Beauties Seen On Amelia Island, Florida

Love birds and gardening? Providing water and planting natives will encourage wild birds to visit yards and help them survive.

There’s an amazing world of birds to be admired right in one’s own backyard. Local area residents might be pleasantly surprised at the variety of wild birds that could become visitors if their needs are fulfilled throughout the year.

Fall migration -- Cape May Warbler in birdbath (Nov. 1, 2023 on Amelia Island, FL.)
Fall migration — Cape May Warbler, Nov. 1, 2023, Amelia Island, FL.
Birds Need Water, Food & Shelter

Whether birdscaping an entire lot or opting for a smaller project (such as a bird garden), adding a fresh water source will help bring more birds to yards.

Use Native Plants

Also consider planting natives — what Mother Nature intended before development changed the natural landscape. Lawns have replaced much of what formerly grew before large parcels were developed into home sites and neighborhoods here and around the nation. Suburban landscapes became dominated by large lawns, especially after WWII when the production of power lawn mowers took off.

Male painted bunting in birdbath. Amelia Island Living eMagazine.
Male Painted Bunting in birdbath.
Window To The Birds — Take Time To Look

The birdbath and fountain photos published here were taken through a window overlooking an Amelia Island backyard with several types of birdbaths/fountains during different seasons of the year.

Warbler in fountain, Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Warbler in fountain, Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Fall & Winter — Ideal Seasons To Begin Bird-Friendly Garden Project

Weather-wise, the fall and winter seasons in northeast Florida are an ideal time for gardening projects with a welcomed reprieve from summer’s oppressive heat. However, no matter where one lives or what season is most optimal for gardening, those who plant native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers will help to make their local ecosystem healthier. 

“Each patch of restored native habitat is just that — a patch in the frayed fabric of the ecosystem in which it lies. By landscaping with native plants, we can turn a patchwork of green spaces into a quilt of restored habitat.”

AUDUBON.ORG — “Why Native Plants Are Better for Birds and People”
Good For Nature & Gratifying For Gardeners

Native plantings produce seeds, berries and flowers that attract insects (the top plant pollinator), and help feed birds. Audubon indicates that native plants produce four times as much “insect biomass,” vs. non-native plants.  Watch and wait, and as your garden grows through seasonal changes, an array of beautiful birds, butterflies and other pollinators will visit yards deemed inviting. Many will also agree that spending time outdoors in the garden and connecting with nature is quite gratifying.

20+ photos of birds below seen on Amelia Island (plus some tips for birdbaths and more).

Northern Parula taking a bath, Amelia Island, Florida. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Northern Parula taking a bath, Amelia Island, Florida.

A favorite tiny warbler is the Northern Parula, a seasonal visitor to Amelia Island seen during the warmer months of the year. They seem to delight in bathing (are birdbath daily visitors during summertime), often singing, splashing and dunking. Here in America’s deep South, the Northern Parula is attracted to Spanish moss and breeds in humid woods. According to Audubon’s Guide To North American Birds, they hide nests inside the hanging moss.

Oriole in bird bath, Amelia Island, FL. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Oriole in bird bath, Amelia Island, FL. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)

Volumes of information has been published about the best ways to help our feathered friends and attract them to yards. In Florida, the University of Florida (UF/IFAS) is a top source of helpful gardening and landscaping research. Check out their “Gardening Solutions,” including tips on gardening for birds.

Worm-eating warbler in birdbath, Fernandina Beach, Florida. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Worm-eating warbler in birdbath, Fernandina Beach, FL. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)

In a nutshell, provide birds with a fresh source of water as well as the proper variety of food. With regard to food for birds, the best option is the natural way (accomplish this with native plantings), otherwise bird feeders. Lastly, a bird-friendly landscape also offers places to hide. Provide birds with cover from the elements and predators, as well as places to rest and nest. 

Brown thrasher in birdbath, Amelia Island, Florida.
Brown Thrasher Taking A Dip. (Photo October 2023, Amelia Island).
Shade For Birdbaths & Fountains

A birdbath with shelter/cover nearby (such as native tree throwing shade), helps to create a welcoming bird oasis. When thinking about what trees to plant, native oak trees are an excellent choice. Oaks are said to host the most insects — food for birds — of any tree family. Another good option of native tree here in Northeast Florida is the River Birch. These trees attract the American Goldfinch (they often arrive in groups and devour the birch tree catkins).

Carolina Chickadee, Bottle Brush Tree. Photo by Amelia Island Living eMagazine, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Carolina Chickadee on Bottlebrush, Amelia Island, FL.

An additional shrub (or small tree) that we recommend for attracting birds, although not native, but considered “Florida-Friendly,” is Bottlebrush. A variety of warblers, plus Baltimore Orioles, chickadees and hummingbirds galore adore Bottlebrush, a source of sweet nectar. Besides adding vibrant pops of red to a landscape with its vivid flower spikes, bottlebrush also attracts numerous other pollinators in the insect family, like bees and beautiful Swallowtail butterflies. But squirrels like them, too. Unfortunately, a squirrel can rather quickly sever the blooms of a Bottlebrush with their teeth as though Edward Scissorhands made an appearance. The ground underneath will become littered with the victim blooms.

The Tail-Wagging Eastern Phoebe (a type of Flycatcher). AmeliaIslandLiving.com
The Tail-Wagging Eastern Phoebe (October 2023), Amelia Island.

A variety of beautiful wood warblers, as well as Orioles, Eastern bluebirds, Goldfinches, and the gorgeous, colorful Painted Buntings are just some of Amelia Island’s birdbath visitors.

Create A Bird Oasis At Home

Also add some seclusion by putting a few tall shrubs in the vicinity of the birdbath (offering perches/branches for birds to land/grasp nearby). Birds often go back and forth from a bath to nearby tree branches or shrubs, preening themselves for a bit in between.

Simple Shallow Saucer Of Water

Starting with basics, a shallow rimmed saucer, the type commonly used under potted plants, is a simple option that some may already have at home. Those desiring a more prominent garden feature can get a birdbath or install a fountain with moving water. Besides providing necessary hydration for our feathered friends, some will find it interesting to watch birds get drenched and fluff up.

Moving Water Attracts More Birds
Vireo at fountain, backyard birds, Amelia Island, FL. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Vireo at fountain, backyard birds, Amelia Island, FL.

Moving water that creates a sound (dribbling or dripping), will attract more birds. Another pro for moving water is less opportunity for mosquitoes to lay eggs vs. still water. Moving water can additionally help to slow down birdbath algae growth. Some bird gardeners add misters.

Rinse birdbaths to refresh the water daily in hot weather. We’ve found during Florida summers, it’s beneficial to hose off and refill birdbaths and fountains twice a day. Birds when bathing do splash water out, and heat can also cause evaporation.

Orange-crowned Warbler in Florida bird bath. (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com)
Orange-crowned Warbler, Amelia Island, FL.

When it’s brutally hot outside like the extreme heat and humidity Florida experienced during the summer of 2023, birds will likely rest more during peak temps of the day. Instead, they tend to forage for food and seek water in early morning and early evening.

Unless you’re a bird expert, some sleuthing may be required to correctly identify bird species. For the novice birdwatcher, warblers and sparrows can be tricky. It’s interesting to figure out who’s been visiting, or at least narrow it down to a couple of possibilities.

Year-Round Vs. Seasonal Birds

Locally here in Northeast Florida, some bird species are present year round while others are seasonal visitors for a few months. In addition are birds making brief stops, passing through during seasonal migration.

Visitors During Migration

A northeast Florida barrier island, Amelia is located along the Atlantic Flyway. Each spring and fall, a wide variety of bird species make Amelia Island pit stops during migration. Birds on the move during migration drop into yards while on long flights seeking water, shelter, and natural food from native plants/shrubs and trees.

“Northeast Florida is the second-largest migration path for birds on the Atlantic Flyway,” according to the Duval Audubon Society in Jacksonville, FL. The height of spring migration is March through May, and fall migration September into early November in northeast Florida. (Although some species may be spotted a bit earlier or be seen a bit later, as well).

Some of the most commonly seen year-round birds here in northeast Florida include the Northern Cardinal, Blue Jays, Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens and woodpeckers. These regular visitors are often observed foraging for food, landing to drink or take a dip in birdbaths, or nesting. (Pictured below, Red-bellied woodpeckers successfully nested in this Amelia Island backyard snag (left) during spring 2023. Pileated woodpecker (right).

By implementing features that will encourage more birds to visit, people help birds and the ecosystem — regardless of where one lives — while also gaining enjoyment and learning more about birds.

The gray catbird (pictured below), is another songbird that delights in taking baths. Catbirds are seen frequently on Amelia Island during the cooler months of the year.

Gray catbird taking a bath. Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com. Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Gray catbirds frequent birdbath, Amelia Island, FL.

The catbird gets its name from its cat-like call (often described as sounding like meowing). Speaking of cats, they’re dangerous for birds. Keeping cats indoors is something pet owners can do to help birds survive. According to the American Bird Conservancy,  “predation by domestic cats is the number-one direct, human-caused threat to birds in the United States and Canada.”

Landscaping Maintenance

For do-it-yourself gardeners, it does take time and effort to transition an area to become more wildlife friendly. There’s the initial cost of purchasing natives. But over time, some of these original natives can be propagated with success to add more plantings around a yard. Besides the initial digging and planting, there’s also a time investment for ongoing maintenance chores, especially weeding (for those who wish to avoid using herbicides). Depending on size of the project, it can take a homeowner years (transitioning an entire yard, for example). However, for those who like gardening and wish to do something positive for the environment while enjoying a variety of birds visiting your yard, the rewards become apparent.

Also refer to UF/IFAS “Florida-Friendly landscaping” information and a main principle, “Right Plant, Right Place.” See UF/IFAS plant selection guidehttps://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/apps/plant-guide/

Beneficial Insects

Avoiding or reducing the use of insecticides is another way to help birds. Reportedly, 96% of North America’s landbirds need insects to feed their young (mentioned in articles published by Audubon). Research on the Carolina Chickadee and the impact on breeding in homeowners’ yards planted with non-natives (vs. yards with native plants), is often cited in bird-related publications. Non-native plants support far fewer birds as compared to native plants. (Read more about “Biodiversity For The Birds” and the Chickadee study at University of Delaware website).

Garden Therapy

While adding a variety native plants, trees and flowers to yards is beneficial for the environment, birds and other wildlife, too, time in the garden is good for humans as well. Many studies indicate gardening and time outdoors in nature is calming and therapeutic. Bringing more nature into one’s life seems to be even more important these days in the Digital Age, considering how much time people spend daily looking at screens.

Birdbath Maintenance

No one wants to breed mosquitoes in stagnant water or induce algae growth. The shallow saucers, birdbaths, and fountains require regular maintenance cleaning to avoid possible transmission of diseases from one bird to another, as well. One method is using diluted white vinegar. The recommended mixture is one part white vinegar to nine parts water. Wear rubber or disposable gloves and utilize a stiff brush to scrub birdbaths and fountains, then thoroughly rinse them out.

Bird Photography

Helpful birding sources such as AllAboutBirds.com and Audubon.com are a wealth of information for those wishing to learn more about our feathered friends and identifying species seen. Taking photos of birds when sighted can later help with identification, by comparing images taken to those published by reliable birding sources. (Note the images published here were taken through a window without disturbing the birds outside). Some prefer to download birding apps for help with identification and birding information, such as Merlin by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and eBird. Additional helpful sources are the field guides by birding experts such as David Sibley and/or the Stokes.

Related Content

Also read Audubon’s “How To Make Your Yard Bird-Friendly.”

By W.B. Lawson

PERSPECTIVE -- Observations of island life, news & opinion.