Everyone enjoys a different style of yard, and some people may not want a yard at all! However, if you are anything like me, you like to bring a bit of nature to your backyard. Having a yard that is attractive to wildlife is very appealing to many people, myself included. Having a bird-friendly backyard falls into this category. Wild birds add a layer of beauty to any backyard that just can’t be bought at Home Depot or created with a lawnmower and weed eater. There are many things you can do to your existing backyard that will encourage birds to visit it more often and most aren’t that difficult to implement.
The benefits of a bird-friendly backyard
As I mentioned above, having a variety of wild birds really adds something special to a yard. Their vibrant colors and beautiful songs inspire feelings of peace and tranquility that can really bring joy, relaxation and happiness to your yard. A sense of connecting with nature rather than something man made. Here are just some of the benefits of having birds in your yard, in my opinion anyway:
- A sense of nature and tranquility
- Knowing that you are providing birds a place to reproduce and raise young
- Helping non-migratory birds survive the winter
- Being able to watch them and learn about them up close
- Getting started with birdwatching and taking some amazing pictures
1. Offer food with a bird feeder
bird friendly backyard. You don’t have to have a feeder to attract birds, but it certainly makes it easier. Keep in mind that putting out a bird feeder won’t only attract birds, you are bound to attract a diverse amount of wildlife to a bird feeder, some less desirable than others. Here are a few examples of the critters that may at least attempt to eat from a bird feeder, some regional and some less likely than others.
- Squirrels & Chipmunks
Here are a few of the main types of feeders to consider using. Consider a squirrel proof bird feeder if you are trying to just feed birds as they are good at keeping anything larger out.
- Tube feeder
- Platform feeder
- Ground feeder
- Hopper feeder
- Hummingbird feeder
- Suet cage feeder
2. Give them a water source
Not all birds are seed eaters, however, all birds need water for drinking and bathing. So putting out a birdbath can attract birds that aren’t attracted to feeders offering seed. Below are a few ways you can offer water to birds, hopefully giving you a bird-friendly backyard. Keep in mind, birds like water with movement so adding something like a fountain or bubbler may prove to be especially attractive to nearby birds.
- Standard pedestal birdbath
- Ceramic dish
- Solar fountain
- Bird mister
- A small pond or artificial stream
3. Provide shelter
There are three main things that birds need to survive: food, water, and shelter. We’ve covered the first two now let’s talk shelter. Certain types of birds are cavity nesters, which means they don’t build nests out in the open, they need an enclosed space. By putting up a birdhouse or two, you can provide cavity-nesting birds a place to build nests and lay their eggs. It can be very joyful to watch birds nest building and raising young in your yard! But shelter doesn’t just mean places for nesting.
Birds need some type of shelter that they can quickly dart back and forth to at the slightest sign of danger, namely trees, bushes, shrubs, and plants. A big open yard with a bird feeder right in the middle won’t get as much activity as one with bushes or trees nearby. Open space makes birds more nervous, whereas having cover nearby means they can quickly dash off at the sight of something like a hawk. Which brings us to number 4.
4. Reduce Empty Lawn Space
Big empty spaces don’t do much for birds. As I alluded to, birds like lots of vegetation and plant-life. There are many things that will naturally attract birds to your yard and give you an overall more bird-friendly backyard. Here are a few examples:
- Widen flower beds
- Include more gardens
- Plant new trees
- Create “islands” of flowers and vegetation
5. Plant native trees and shrubs
This ties in with number 3 because planting trees and shrubs will also provide shelter. In addition, the native fruits and seeds generated will feed the birds in your area. It’s generally not good to have plants that aren’t native to your region because they can potentially be harmful to birds, however, if you do your research some may be ok. Here are a few examples of plants and trees that will attract birds of different types, just be sure to check if they are native to your area before planting anything.
- Elderberry Bush
- Oak Tree
- Dogwood Tree
Plant flowers and plants that hummingbirds like
Don’t forget the hummingbirds! Having an active hummingbird feeder is a wonderful addition to any backyard. Here are a few examples of plants that attract hummingbirds. If you decide to plant one in your yard just check if it’s native to where you live and if it doesn’t do the proper research to determine if it could be harmful to your backyard ecosystem.
- Red Cardinal Flower
- Bee Balm
- Trumpet Honeysuckle
6. Re-create natural layers of plant growth
As you can see from the image above there are a variety of types and sizes of bushes and shrubbery. This is closer to how it might be in natural areas as opposed to a finely manicured open lawn with little vegetation other than grass. A large open yard with little growth, bushes, or trees is attractive to many people and gives your yard a very clean look. However, if you want to attract wild birds to your backyard you may want to rethink things. The bushes in the picture are the perfect type of shelter I described above. Some birds will use it for nesting while others will use it for shelter from the elements or just general protection from predators.
7. Designate wild areas
Building on number 6, try having an area that you let grow wild and don’t prune. Varying levels of vegetation will grow naturally. This certainly isn’t a requirement but is a tactic you can try. Think about it, this is what birds see in their natural environments and will make them feel safe. Natural vegetation will also help support native insects, which the birds will eat. Here are a couple of tips:
- You can have areas to dump brush piles. Brush piles provide insects, shelter and nesting material.
- Plant annuals and let them go to seed without pruning.
8. Use organic fertilizers and non-toxic lawn care
In order to enjoy the beauty that birds bring to our yards, there are things we can do to make our property more hospitable to them. One important one is to only use organic fertilizers and practice non-toxic lawn care. Each year over 60 million birds die as a result of exposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers (source). You won’t find these chemical pesticides in state parks, natural areas, and a bird’s natural environment that is untouched by man. There are many chemicals you shouldn’t use to provide a safe environment for birds. Below is a list of alternative measures for organic lawn care.
- 2, 4-D
- Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)
- Corn gluten meal
- Insecticidal soaps and oils
- Ladybugs, lacewings, wasps, and other predatory insects
- Traps and species-specific baits
9. Separate people spots from bird spots
Areas where your children and family play yard games with are not the ideal spots to try and attract birds, there may be too much activity. Birds don’t like getting too up close and personal with humans, especial humans running around and making noise. If you have room for it, designate a portion of your yard that can be just for the birds. Here you can have your bird feeders, birdbath, and varying levels of growth. This way the birds will feel safer and your family won’t have to tiptoe around the bird area. Additionally, you may not want them around your deck or patio anyway because of the mess birds can make. Here’s a great article on how to keep birds away from patios, decks, and balconies.
10. Keep pets indoors
Dogs too, but cats especially are known for chasing birds. Some people have indoor/outdoor cats, or even just outdoor, and that’s fine but keep in mind birds are very skittish and nervous creatures that may not take kindly to nearby predators like house cats. And let’s face it, outdoor cats are going to kill some of your backyard birds. They aren’t being mean, it’s just in their nature. So if you’ve done everything else and birds still aren’t showing up, check if your kitty is prowling around the feeders waiting to pounce. If so, you may want to consider bringing him inside.
As we’ve gone over there are a number of ways to give yourself a more bird-friendly backyard and attract some feathered wildlife. Even after you’ve implemented some of these methods it may take some time for the word to get out that you are offering a nice hangout for birds or even food and water, which will attract them even quicker. Regardless of how you choose to do it, having some of these beautiful animals visiting or living in your backyard is a very rewarding experience. You are helping them survive, you are helping them raise their young, and you are helping to support the birds that share your environment.