Garden of the Week: Urban Bird Habitat

urban-bird-habitatLocation: South and West Sides of the National Museum of Natural History

Hours: Always open, always beautiful.

Mary Lennox would tip her hat to the Smithsonian’s Urban Bird Habitat, which sits on the south and west side of the National Museum of Natural History.  Up until five years ago, this garden did not exist, but through the thoughtful dedication of the Smithsonian Gardens team, what was once overlooked is now well-tended and beloved. And, like Mary’s gardens, the inspiration for this tucked-away treasure was a bird. Today, the Urban Bird Habitat provides a space for birds to build nests, forage for food and find shelter. From certain points inside the Habitat, one can lose sight of the city. The gardeners also have grander plans for this garden. Pending additional funding, one day there may be benches, classical music performances and other offerings to make this space a refuge within the city. Until then, take a stroll through or sit on the grass to enjoy this peaceful garden beneath the trees.

Don’t miss:

red-breasted-robin-babybirdsThe Dead Tree. This standing dead tree, referred to as a “snag”, was left in the Urban Bird Habitat to serve as a source of food and shelter for local wildlife. Before you walk through the garden, be sure to check what wildlife is using the snag and how.

The bronze sculpture, Passenger Pigeon. Two years ago an exhibit called The Lost Bird pigeon-and-labelProject brought five statues of recently extinct birds into this garden. The statues were of a Carolina parakeet, Labrador duck, heath hen, great auk and passenger pigeon—all birds that have gone extinct in the last 175 years. The project brought attention to modern extinction and the need for preservation of our endangered bird species. At the end of the exhibit, the sculpture was gifted to the garden because the bird looked so pretty beneath the trees and had a great potential to reach many more visitors with its message. Martha the last living passenger pigeon, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, part of the Smithsonian collection and will be going on display inside the museum in an upcoming exhibit.

The plant labels. Visitors can learn more about the relationship between birds and the garden through the signs beneath many of the plants. These markers will explain if the plant is a seed, nectar or fruit source, a source of shelter, or a source for nest-building. Look for signs that have little birds on them.

The birdbath. These carved granite boulders are designed to catch water from morning rain and irrigation then dry out throughout the day. The birdbath is both beautiful and functional—especially in D.C. summers when these clever rocks provide a drink for birds, but not a breeding ground for bugs.

Want to do some more digging? During the run of The Secret Garden, STC is celebrating all things green and growing! You’re invited to share and explore all the beauty that can be found outside. Visit to learn more.

Photos courtesy of Smithonian Gardens and James Gagliardi.