From Retire for less in Costa Rica – When we began gardening many years ago, we also started feeding wild birds at about the same time. It wasn’t long before we realized the two activities were interconnected. We observed the birds’ habits, learned what things were beneficial for them and began modifying our garden accordingly.
Later we became attuned to other types of wildlife, including butterflies, bees, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, bats, and many other creatures.
This opened up a whole new world to us. It was educational, entertaining, and made us feel part of the natural world around us. We eventually realized that many people were going through this life change at the same time we were. For example, for many years the staff at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, which was just a mile from our home, had offered a series of courses to teach people to become Master Gardeners. About a year before we left they began a second set of courses to teach people to become Master Naturalists.
Gardening for wildlife is much more than just putting out food for birds. The next logical step is to grow plants that provide food (such as nuts, fruit and seeds) for birds and all types of animals and insects. After you take this second step you will eventually come to realize that the key is to create a habitat that is wildlife friendly in as many ways as possible.
They all go together. To illustrate, when we put up our bird feeder in Costa Rica our yard was bare of trees and shrubs. Not many birds came to the feeder. After a few years when trees and shrubs had grown up we got a lot more birds. What we noticed was that birds approach the feeder very cautiously because they are worried about predators. They will sit and hide in the trees and shrubs first while they check out the area. If they are unable to do this, many birds will not come to the feeder.
In South Carolina we put out mostly seeds and nuts, plus suet in winter. These attracted many different kinds of birds. Here in Costa Rica we put out fruit (mainly semi-ripe or ripe plantains and papaya). There are many birds here that are fruit and nectar eaters. In fact, we’ve counted 25 different species that come to our feeder. You can also put out cracked corn and cooked rice, which will attract rufous-collared sparrows (comemaiz), pigeons and doves and a few other kinds of birds.
In South Carolina we had a nectar feeder for the ruby-throated hummingbirds. When we moved here we did the same thing because we had no flowers. We noticed the feeders attracted rufous-tailed hummingbirds. They are very territorial and drove off all the other kinds of hummers. After three years we had lots of flowers and so took down the feeders. The return of the other hummers has been a very slow process. My advice is to plant lots of hummingbird-friendly flowers and to not put up feeders.
When we arrived in Costa Rica in 2009 we set out immediately to garden for wildlife. We had a lot to learn because so many plants and animals are different here, and we are still learning (and, of course, we will never stop learning). But we were surprised to find some of the same plants here, and some of the same or similar animals that naturally went with them.
Here is a list of plants (and the insects or birds they attract) we’ve grown both in the US and Costa Rica. The first four on the list you can find at local viveros.