How to Attract Backyard Birds for a Wildlife-Friendly Home

Wouldn’t it be great to capture that feeling of peace with a connection to nature at your home? That feeling can be yours once you learn how to attract backyard birds!

That euphoria you experience after a walk outdoors is the real deal, and it’s good for you, according to scientific research. Inviting birds to your space is an ideal way to bring these health benefits home for you and your family.

The best part about it is that it’s easy to do. All it takes is providing the basic needs that our feathered friends need.

Let’s get started!

Why You Should Attract Birds to Your Yard

Health benefits aside, there are a lot of excellent reasons for making your yard bird-friendly for even the most common species. Citizen conservationists like you are responsible for a lot of the success stories for helping birds survive and thrive.

Species like the northern cardinal and eastern bluebird have made a huge comeback, thanks to the efforts of people like you who feed them and provide them with shelter. And let’s be honest, a lot of birds are in trouble because of the loss of habitat caused by people. It’s tougher for the ones that can only live in specific places like grasslands and coastal areas. But that doesn’t mean that robins or chickadees wouldn’t appreciate a helping hand, too.

Aside from habital destruction, extreme weather like harsh winters or brutally hot summers are hard on birds. But with the help of your favorite neighborhood bird-lovers, birds will thrive no matter come rain or snow!

Knowing Which Birds Lives Around You

The best place to start is to learn which birds are already in your area. You can spend some time on your deck or patio with a pair of binoculars and just observe.

A bird guide will help you with the identification:

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th Edition (Peterson Field Guides)
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  • This book guides a unique identification system, which has been called the greatest invention since binoculars
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Last update on 2024-04-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

You can also check with your local chapter of the National Audubon Society or nature center to get the inside track on the bird life. They can also give you some tips on how to attract them to your yard.

Bear in mind that you’ll likely see different waves of species passing through your area that stick around just for a short time. Others are resident for a part of the season or even year-round.

Some birds are migrants on the way to their breeding grounds or winter sites. These are the species that birdwatchers love to spot to add to the checklist of birds that they’ve seen.

There is a good reason why over 1.5 million people participate in the activity. Believe us – it’s addicting.

Armed with this information, you’re ready to start making your backyard home for our feathered friends.

The Big Three

Birds, like all wildlife, must have three things to make a place a stomping ground for them. They include:

  • A reliable food source
  • Available water
  • Shelter from predators and the elements

The trick is knowing what birds can thrive in the habitat of your backyard. That’s what wildlife researchers refer to as their niche. A bird’s habitat includes a special group of plants and features that they thrive well under. These include sites such as forests, prairies, and wetlands.

For all wildlife, it also includes a specific range. That just means that a species needs a certain amount of space where it can find everything it needs to survive. Some birds are content with the space of the average backyard. Others need a lot of room with home ranges that cover several miles.

There are over 1,200 species of birds in the United States. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to attract all of them to your backyard. Instead, we’ll stick with the ones that you’re most likely to see and then provide ways to make your yard the perfect place for them to roost.

Now let’s go over each of the previously listed needs in more detail:

Step 1: The Right Food for the Right Bird

Birds aren’t unlike people and they definitely have their food preferences. Some are pickier, while other birds are generalists, eating practically whatever they can find, such as gulls swooping down for the potato chips you’re tossing up in the air.

Setting up a bird feeder is your best bet for providing food for your backyard birds.

Three Basic Types of Feeders:

  • Platform style, like a house
  • Hopper, like a trough
  • Tube feeder

Then, there’s what you put inside of the feeders. You’ll find a variety of choices from straight seed to mixes with fancy-sounding names that attract other wildlife, along with the birds.

Popular Bird Feed:

  • Sunflower
  • Cracked corn
  • Safflower
  • Millet
  • Peanuts
  • Canary seed

You’ll find that some types of feeders work better with different seeds. For example, a tube feeder is an excellent choice for small feeds like millet, while a platform feeder works well with mixes or larger seeds.

You can offer other foodstuffs too, such as orange halves nailed to a post or tree to attract orioles to your yard. Few birds will turn down a yummy seed cake or suet.

There are other feeding options, as well, such as the best hummingbird feeder filled with sweet-tasting nectar.

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Tips for Using a Bird Feeder

When it comes to bird feeders, keep in mind that the easy availability of a food source is bound to attract more than birds. But there are a few ways in which you can avoid unwanted guests and keep your bird feeder performing well:

  • A squirrel guard will deter most critters.
  • Placement away from a launch site is a smart idea to avoid making it easy for other creatures to get the bird food.
  • Be on the lookout for wildlife other than rodents, such as deer or even bears. They are just as opportunistic when food is getting scarce.
  • Upkeeping the area underneath the feeder will control most issues with unwanted guests. We strongly urge you to make it a part of your landscaping maintenance to avoid a rodent problem.
  • Watch out for bees and wasps that like nectar just as much as the hummingbirds visiting your feeder. A trap placed nearby will help ensure that the hummingbirds get the food and not the interlopers.
  • Don’t let the birdfeeder sit empty.

The critical thing to remember is that if you commit to a bird feeder, stick with it, especially during the winter. Birds are creatures of habit and will rely on the food that you provide.

Landscaping for Wildlife

Bird food doesn’t always have to come from a feeder. You can also add plants to your landscape to provide nourishment for nearby birds.

There are lots of options for plants for birds, though they vary depending on the kinds of birds you see most often. Red, tubular-shaped flowers like Columbine are an excellent choice for hummingbirds.

Any plant with seeds, including grasses like Prairie Dropseed or Little Bluestem, will provide nutrient-rich food that can last well into the cooler months. Birds like goldfinches and sparrows will munch on them until they’re gone.

Flowering plants are another perfect choice because of the seeds. Purple Coneflower and Coreopsis will keep them fed and add some welcome color to your backyard.

Some species only eat the foodstuffs that they know. With those birds, plants native to your area are the best choice. The familiar foods to these birds are essential to their wellbeing. Remember that the birds have likely adapted to eat certain things throughout the generations and will naturally look for those food sources in their habitat.

On the other hand, generalist birds are a different story.

The key to success for these birds is to give them a variety of choices. It’s not unlike the usual dietary advice for people to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. And if you notice they prefer some food options over others, plant more of their favorites. Be sure to experiment with your plants to see what works best for the birds in your area.

Step 2: Water in the Right Spot

This aspect of attracting backyard birds is crucial, especially during the harsher months. A birdbath is an obvious solution — as long as you keep it filled. Be sure to place the birdbath in a shady area to keep it from evaporating too quickly. Putting it near the food source is also helpful.

During the winter months, keeping water available for your birds can prove to be a challenge once temperatures get below freezing. Fortunately, you can find heaters that you can place in the bowl to keep the water available.

If birdbaths aren’t your thing, you can also add a plethora of decorative water features to your landscape that can act as a water source.

Don’t forget to rinse out the water source once in a while to remove potentially harmful elements! Our goal is to keep our wild friends happy and healthy.

Step 3: Give Me Shelter!

This task relates to the species and its habitat that we mentioned earlier. A shelter often does double-duty. It’s a place to build a nest and pass the nights in relative safety from the concealment that it offers. Many times, it also provides another source of food.

That’s where you can do some homework and find out what type of plants that the birds you want to attract prefer. The ones who eat anything probably won’t mind as long as they feel secure.

Let’s look at your options:

Types of Plants for Landscaping

Not all birds nest in trees. Some, like red-winged blackbirds, do just fine in shrubs. Grasshopper sparrows, on the other hand, are ground nesters. Tall native grasses will make an ideal home for them.

That guidebook you used to identify the species will come in handy with your plant selection. You’ll see a blurb about habitat which can then point you in the right direction for picking the right ones.

For example, attracting birds that live in the wetlands means setting up your backyard to replicate what they’d look for in the wild. Cattails, duckweed, and pond lilies will help create the right mix.

When choosing plants, keep in mind the season patterns of the species, too. For example, year-round residents will do well with shrubs that have foliage all the time for reliable shelter.

Bear in mind the maintenance of the plants. Having birds in them means you can’t prune them or apply pesticides as if they weren’t there. You’ll find that maintenance-free choices are the best for minimizing the time you need to tend to them and risk disturbing your avian residents.

Artificial Nests

Sometimes, all you have to do is leave the garage door open and swallows will take care of the rest. If there’s one thing you can count on with birds, it’s that they are resourceful. Just ask any employee at a home improvement center with an outdoor garden section.

You can also buy a pre-made or DIY nest box for cavity-nesting birds. The type will vary with the species with the corresponding right hole size. Yes, it makes a difference.

Placement is another vital consideration for spacing and height. Some birds are more gregarious than others and will tolerate neighbors. Others, not so much.

You also have to take into account the safety of the parents and their brood since you’re assuming a caretaker role. That means putting it out of harm’s way, far from trees or any other place where a raccoon or cat can gain access.

Also, install a predator guard to prevent other animals from getting inside the nest box. Something as simple as a sloped roof that extends out just enough so that a cat can’t get her paw inside can work wonders.

Finally, make sure that you have the nest boxes in place well before the birds return in the spring. That’s when the males of many species arrive to scout out possible nesting spots.

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Step 4: Putting on the Finishing Touches

There are several other things you can do to make your mission to attract backyard birds a success. Sometimes, they need a little nudge. It’s not always obvious what has gone awry. Knowing the biology and behavior can go a long way for determining why things are working out for you.

Remember that birds that are reproducing are pretty selective about where they live. They are less likely to settle for something that isn’t up to scratch if there are abundant resources in the area. They’ll just move to the next place and right over your yard.

Give Them Space

Birds prefer situations when there are no surprises. Their tolerance for people and other animals varies with the species.

Some birds, like chickadees, are pretty cool about it. Others, like golden-eye ducks, are wary of anyone in their space and will flush as soon as they sense that someone is on their turf.

Generally, city dwellers are more likely to accept the presence of humans than their country friends. They have simply gotten used to us being around because there are so many of us.

That’s why you often hear about other wildlife living near human dwellings. They learn your patterns and figure out that you aren’t a threat, after all.

However, our advice is always to err on the side of caution. Enjoy their presence from a distance and don’t push it.

Pets and Birds

Okay, we know this point will raise some hackles on both sides of the aisle. But the facts are the facts.

People use dogs to hunt birds. Cats are the quintessential predator, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimating a loss of approximately 2.4 billion birds due to felines alone.

So where does that leave you if you have pets and want backyard birds?

It means setting boundaries for everyone. The family dog has his space to play, and the birds have the privacy of their nesting area.

If you have a choice — not always possible with some felines — keep your cat or cats indoors. If that’s not an option, at least be outside with them so that you can shoo them away if necessary.

Step 5: Troubleshooting Issues

There are times when those best-laid plans just don’t pan out no matter what you do. But don’t give up hope.

We got this.

Some of the most common issues that keep birds away are:

  • Too much activity
  • Unreliable food sources
  • Predators
  • Interlopers like cowbirds or European starlings
  • Not the right habitat

Some things are easy to fix. You can make sure that no one is invading their space and causing them to look elsewhere for a safe place.

We said it once, and we’ll say it again. Creating a habitat for birds is a commitment that requires you to do your part. Keep the feeder topped off with food and make sure there’s water in the birdbath.

Placement, as we discussed earlier, is your best weapon against predators. However, if a raccoon has taken up residence in your yard, you’ll need the big guns, i.e., a nuisance wildlife removal service to handle the job. Don’t try this one at home. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law or worse, risk an injury with an angry beastie.

Invasive Birds

Other birds causing grief is another can of worms.

Some, like kestrels, and other hawks will kill smaller birds, taking on the predator role. Others, like brown-headed cowbirds, are especially devious, laying their eggs in another nest to let the victims do the dirty work of raising their young.

The problem is that you can’t get rid of these troublemakers or even toss out their eggs in the case of the latter. The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects them.

Before you scream foul, read on to find out why it’s the law.

Back in the day, bird feathers on women’s hats were high fashion, so much that species like the great egret were on the brink of extinction. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Top Hat,” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, you’ll notice a scene where Rogers is in a dance scene, wearing a stunning white gown… with Egret feathers on the entire dress. Enough said.

You can deter them by simply not providing the foods that they like so that they won’t view your backyard as a likely home. Don’t offer their favorites like sunflower seeds.

Let’s face it: cowbirds have plenty of options if they’re not getting what they want from your backyard. They can, and will, look elsewhere to find it.

Final Thoughts

Nothing beats bringing nature to your home. It teaches kids some valuable lessons, such as the importance of habitat and survival.

And the needs of birds are not too different from you or us. We all want good food to eat, something to wash it down with, and a soft place to lay our heads at night.

Learning how to attract backyard birds and succeeding is a rewarding experience for the entire family. What can beat waking up to the choruses of songbirds on a summer morning?