How to attract birds to your yard

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Is your yard a flight path, but never a landing strip? That can happen when it holds little or nothing to encourage birds to drop in and linger. They have scant time to waste — their days are busy with the need to find food, cover, and suitable nesting places. So, turn your yard into a destination, where birds will come and stay. Some things are quick and easy to do. Others take some time, but persistence and patience pay off. Follow these tips, and you’ll be hosting birds full-time!

First, feeders
Hang bird feeders. Fill them with seeds, nuts, and fruits that will attract your favorite birds, such as white millet for sparrows, safflower for cardinals, peanuts for jays and woodpeckers, nectar for hummingbirds and orange slices for orioles. The greater the variety, the more bird species you’ll attract. If you prefer to offer only one kind, then black-oil sunflower seeds, in the shell or chipped, will appeal to the most species of birds. Place feeders 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 m) away from shrubbery so that birds will be safe from hidden predators. Birds and their favorite foods

Water, too
Offer water for drinking and bathing. Place a birdbath on a pedestal, hang one or even place one on the ground (or do all three). Place ground birdbaths away from places where predators can hide. Be sure to keep them clean and the water fresh (see how), even in winter, to help prevent diseases.

Plant trees
Numerous bird species, including waxwings, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and orioles, eat fruit. So, plant trees that offer delicious berries, such as hawthorn, mulberry, serviceberry, crabapple, and cherry.

Fruit trees also attract insects, which are a food source for all insect-eating birds. If possible, let fallen fruit lay, as birds will feed on it there, as well.There are trees to suit any yard size, soil condition, and climate. Include evergreen trees, such as Eastern Redcedar, conifers, and spruces, for protection from predators and summer heat and winter cold. see tree list

Plus shrubs
Plant shrubs that provide fruit, such as dogwood, chokecherry, and hackberry. Select a variety that will have fruit ripening at different times, so something is always available for birds. See shrub list

Plant flowers
Plant seed-bearing flowers, such as coneflowers, coreopsis, aster, and sunflowers. See plant list

Hang birdhouses
The food, plants, shelter, and safety you offer birds will not only make them want to visit your yard regularly but also nest there. Birds are particular; they don’t nest just anywhere. So the goal is to provide everything they’d seek in nature.

Different species have different requirements. Hang birdhouses appropriate for the kinds of birds you want to use them. They also must be placed at suitable heights and locations. For instance, American Robins like to nest on a shelf, and House Wrens need a birdhouse with a small entrance hole that will keep larger birds out. Secure birdhouses away from direct sun. If placed on a pole, use a baffle below it to prevent predators from climbing up. Select birdhouses that are easy to clean and well ventilated. Bird species and where to hang their birdhouses

Offer special nesting materials
Different birds use different materials for their nests, and they also construct their nests in their own particular way. Nests may be made of twigs, leaves, grass clippings, straw, plant stems, pine needles and other matter in the yard. Some birds use mud or add small stones to their nests. In early spring through early summer, you can add to their choices by offering extra nest-building materials. Hang suitable materials over trim limbs in visible areas. Loosely fill mesh bags with soft materials — make sure the mesh has large holes so their contents can be easily pulled out.

Ideas for nesting materials

  • Pieces of yarn 2-3 inches long (5 to 7.6 cm)
  • Hair from your dog’s brush; loosely separate the hair
  • If you’re a hair stylist, take home some hair clippings
  • Cotton balls
  • Mop string (clean) cut 2 to 3 inches long
  • Broom bristles
  • Small pebbles

*Top photo: Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. (Richard Hurd / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

More reading:

Attract butterflies to your yard   
Native annuals for butterflies  
These U.S. hummingbirds weigh less than a nickel, migrate 1,000s of miles  

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