James A. Kushlan and Kirsten Hines
Drawing on their many years of creating bird habitats in South Florida, James Kushlan and Kirsten Hines offer practical, ecologically sound advice for creating gardens that will provide fruit, flowers, insects, and shelter for birds throughout the year. Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens fills a conspicuous void in the literature on two of America’s most popular activities, gardening and birding. With brilliant photographs of plants and birds, this volume is essential for first-time or expert gardeners, homeowners or commercial landscapers, and novice or experienced birders seeking to create bird-friendly landscapes and restore ecological health to the area.
When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to this subject?
We had spent considerable thought and effort on creating a bird-friendly yard at our Key Biscayne home and in that process discovered that all the books and websites available on gardening for birds were about northern birds and northern plants; none worked for South Florida. Jim was in the process of encouraging the development of a bird conservation program at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, hoping to encourage a regional approach to bird conservation. At the same time, Kirsten was focused on encouraging restoration of native South Florida habitats through backyard gardening, particularly within the urban corridor. Our two conservation angles and experiences were perfectly compatible to produce this needed book, and the project developed from there.
You’ve worked to attract a variety of wildlife to Floridian homes and landscapes for many years. Can you describe the bird habitat you created in your own yard?
We actually followed the advice we give in our book in designing our own yard. The backyard, like many in South Florida, is small and mostly patio, so we created an herb garden, a fruit orchard, and a butterfly garden almost entirely in containers. The side yard contains our vegetable garden and the front yard is dedicated to native plants that have quickly come to resemble native hammock habitat. We have a small mixed species lawn and water features. All these garden elements are heavily used by birds, from migrating warblers to nesting screech-owls – over a hundred species in just a few years.
From ibises to bald eagles, there’s a wide variety of birds that can be found in Florida. Do you have a favorite bird that you always hope to attract?
Our primary goal is increasing the number and kinds of native birds that can use our yard. In terms of favorites though, Jim’s is having White Ibis as yard birds, one of South Florida’s unique yard treats. As for Kirsten, she’s attached to the birds that have nested in the yard and looks forward to their return each year – particularly our Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Screech-owls and Purple Martins.
Has your expertise in biology influenced this book? How about your ideas on conservation?
Absolutely! This book tells not only what to plant and what birds will use it, but why, biologically. Appreciating the biology of the bird and the plant allows the gardener to better predict outcomes. The books starts with an overview of South Florida’s natural history – its geology, climate, and native plants and animals. These are the factors that make gardening here so unique and exciting, but also provide a basis for understanding what does and doesn’t work in a South Florida garden.
Throughout the book, we also emphasize that much of South Florida’s natural upland habitat has been lost to development but each person can help restore plant cover in their own space. Our book is all about being a part of recreating more natural habitats in private yards and commercial landscaping, which is one of the greatest conservation actions citizens can take in South Florida today. Bird conservation is central to the book’s purpose, restoring a bird friendly environment and contributing to the natural re-greening of South Florida.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone who has just begun to create a garden?
Don’t get overwhelmed. While we suggest that it is best to make an entire yard plan accounting for how you want to use the space, altering a garden can be daunting, particularly knowing that needs shift over time. It’s ok to start small, perhaps with just one planting area initially. Even one bird friendly plant can be useful. Gardening is a process not a product. If along the way, you decide the plan wasn’t quite right for your needs, it’s never too late to change; plants grow incredibly quickly in South Florida.
What are you working on next?
We’ve actually begun working on a similar book for the Bahamas. We’ve both done research there for many years and conservationist friends of ours were ecstatic to learn of Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens. We are pleased that many of the ideas and advice will be applicable to the Bahamas and wider Caribbean. But to the extent that the society and, to some level, the environment differs from that of South Florida, guidance will differ.
What do you hope to achieve with Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens?
We hope that this book will be both a guide and an inspiration for South Florida’s gardeners and birders and also to any one responsible for parks, commercial properties, roadsides, parking lots, or any bit of the landscape. We hope it will encourage individuals to consider contributing to the re-greening of South Florida by landscaping in an environmentally sensitive way, together recreating the South Florida that has been lost.
*Photos by Kirsten Hines