How to attract birds to your yard

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A backyard wildlife habitat without birds is like the Statue of Liberty without its torch. Birds are the most noticeable reflection of our efforts to provide a haven for wildlife. If you don’t see many or any, then your yard must lack something vital. Here’s what pleases birds.

Hang bird feeders

Fill bird feeders 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 grape jelly or orange slices for orioles. The greater the variety of offerings, the more 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. Place feeders 10 to 12 feet away (3 to 3.7 m) from shrubbery, so birds will be safe from hidden predators.  List of bird species and their favorite seeds

Provide water

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, even in winter, to help prevent diseases.  How to keep feeders and birdbaths clean and fresh 

Trees

Fruiting trees are a food source for numerous bird species, including waxwings, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and orioles. Plant trees that offer delicious berries, such as mulberry, serviceberry, and crabapple. Fruit trees also attract insects, a food source for virtually all insect-eating birds. If possible, let fallen fruit lay, as birds will also eat it on the ground.

Plant trees that offer shelter and protection. Cedars, conifers, and spruces protect birds from predators, summer heat, and winter cold. There are trees to suit any yard size, soil condition, and climate.  List of native trees for wildlife

Shrubs

Plant shrubs that provide fruit, such as dogwoods, Staghorn Sumac or Winterberry. Select varieties that will fruit at different times of the year.  List of native shrubs for wildlife

Flowers

Plant seed-bearing flowers, such as coneflowers, coreopsis, aster, and sunflowers.  List of native plants for wildlife

Nesting places

The food, plants, shelter, and safety you offer birds will not only make them want to visit your yard regularly but to also nest there.

Birds are particular, they don’t nest just anywhere. So your 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. Birdhouses also must be placed at suitable heights and locations. American Robins, for instance, like to nest on a flat area, whereas House Wrens need a birdhouse with a larger entrance hole than chickadees.  Different dimensions for different birds

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.  Choosing the right birdhouse – no one-size-fits-all

Nesting materials

Different species 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. So, don’t keep your yard too tidy. In early spring through early summer, you can add to their choices by putting out extra nest-building materials. Here are some examples.

  • Pile or scatter short (2 to 3 inches long) pieces of yarn
  • Hair from your hairbrush, or your pet’s brush
  • If you’re a hair stylist, take home hair clippings for your yard
  • Put cotton balls in a bowl
  • Scatter mop string (clean) or yarn in short lengths (2 to 3 inches long)
  • Broom bristles
  • Small pebbles
  • Soft materials can be loosely placed in mesh bags — make sure the mesh has large holes so the materials can be easily pulled out.

*Top photo: Male and female Northern Cardinals / WelcomeWildlife.com; cc by-nc-sa 3.0

More reading:

American’s long-distance hummingbirds  
All about birds  
Build a brush pile  
Native plants for hummingbirds       

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