Birds are some of the most commonly seen wildlife. They are active during the daytime, highly adaptable to urban and rural landscapes, colorful and vocal, and busily do their business while people watch. Bird watching is a popular hobby that anyone can enjoy, with no fancy equipment and with minimal expense, even from your backyard. If you’d love more avian visitors, these tips will help you create a bird-friendly landscape!
When you attract birds, you will also welcome many other colorful creatures. Butterflies, native bees, pollinators, and beneficial insects are attracted to many of the same features as birds. You will be creating a habitat to benefit many creatures. You get benefits, too! It’s rewarding to see the wildlife that visits your landscape.
You can take some simple steps to help make these animals right at home. Read on to learn more about 17 tips for creating a bird-friendly garden.
1. Know Your Space
A thriving yard for birds supports a variety of plants and insects.
How bird-friendly is your current space? Do you already have some plants they love? Before planning a great garden, you must know your land and what’s already growing there.
Ask yourself these questions to start becoming familiar with your space. This will help you select the best plants to grow.
- What zone are you in? Look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to learn your zone.
- Do you have full sun, partial shade, or full shade?
- Is your soil heavy clay, sandy, or loamy? Is it well-drained, or does it hold water for a while after each rain? Is it fertile and rich in organic matter, or nutrient-poor and rocky?
- Is the land flat or on a slope?
- Do you need drought-tolerant plants or plants that can handle wet soil?
The best yard for birds will be one where a diversity of plants and insects also thrives. Use these characteristics of your garden as a starting point for which plants will do well in your landscape.
2. Plan Ahead
The ideal seasons for introducing new plants are spring and autumn.
It may be tempting to jump right into your garden project, buy some pretty plants, and put them in the ground wherever you have space. To create a garden with long-lasting appeal, easy maintenance, and high wildlife value, do some advance planning. The best time of year for adding new plants is spring or fall, making the summer and winter months an excellent time to plan.
Sketch out some ideas for your garden. If you have room for trees or shrubs, sketch those first because they require the most room. Trees are critical for bird habitat, providing nesting sites, shelter, and food. Some of the best trees for birds and other wildlife include native oaks, maples, and willows. Consider filling in with larger shrubs that provide lots of bird food, like serviceberry and spicebush.
Fill in the rest of your space with smaller plants. Allow plenty of distance between plants so they don’t become overcrowded. And don’t forget about accessories like a bird feeder, bird bath, or birdhouse.
3. Grow Native Plants
Cultivating native plants in your yard is a top-notch way to support wildlife.
One of the best things you can do for wildlife is to grow native plants in your yard. Native plants are well adapted to thrive in natural conditions, and birds are well adapted to use native plants, so it’s a win-win situation. Some benefits of growing native plants include:
- Don’t require extra fertilizers or pesticides
- Don’t typically require extra watering
- Well-adapted to local environmental conditions
- Easy to grow
- Best sources of food and nectar for wildlife
- Lots of interesting plants to choose from
- They’re beautiful!
Looking for ideas for a few native plants to try? In addition to other native plants listed elsewhere in this article, check out these native species:
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is an herbaceous perennial native to eastern North America. It blooms from summer into fall, and the showy purple-blue flowers attract hummingbirds.
Indiangrass (Sorghastruml nutans) is a native grass that makes an interesting landscaping plant. It provides a long-standing structure in winter, offering ground-foraging birds protection. Seed-eating birds also enjoy the nutritious seeds in the fall and winter months.
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a native shrub with tremendous wildlife value. Pollinators come to visit the summer-blooming flowers. In the fall and into winter, the dense clusters of fruits offer a valuable food source for winter birds.
4. Create a Four-Season Garden
Diversify your garden with flowering plants that mature at different times.
There are always birds in the landscape. Some are summer residents who migrate south for the winter. Some are just passing through your area on their way to other regions. Many other birds are year-round residents. Regardless of the season and which birds are present, birds all need food, water, shelter, and a safe habitat to live in every day. As a gardener, you can help provide this habitat in your bird-friendly garden.
Think of your garden as a four-season habitat for wildlife. You can provide shrubs and trees for shelter, birdhouses, bird feeders, and a water source during every season.
Try to grow plants that bloom in every season. Flowering plants don’t just attract pollinators and insects. They also bring in the birds that feed on them. Flowering plants that mature at different times also provide a valuable source of fruits and seeds that birds can eat.
Here are some suggestions for a few plants to attract birds in each season.
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) is a spring-blooming perennial with very showy, colorful flowers. The flowers catch the attention of early migrant hummingbirds. Columbine is native to North America.
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a spring-blooming perennial native to eastern North America. The white flowers will attract pollinators, and the sweet red fruits will attract hungry birds. If the birds don’t eat all your berries, you can enjoy them as well!
Beebalm (Monarda didyma), also known as wild bergamot, includes many interesting hybrids. These plants bloom throughout the summer and are a favorite of hummingbirds. Monardas are easily grown from seed, and as members of the mint family, are typically not bothered by browsing deer and rabbits.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) blooms throughout the summer and brings in a lot of pollinators. After blooming, the seedheads attract small seed-eating birds like goldfinches and sparrows. Black-eyed Susans are native to eastern North America.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is an easy-to-grow perennial wildflower native to the eastern United States. The purplish-pink mid-summer blooms of purple coneflower are a pollinator favorite, and in the fall, seed-eating birds love to pick apart the spiky seedheads.
Zinnia (Zinnia spp.) is a warm-season annual that is quick and easy to grow from seed. Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators love the colorful zinnia flowers. Seed-eating birds love to pick seeds from the ripe seedheads. Zinnias typically start blooming in the summer and continue blooming until the first frost.
Holly (Ilex spp) is a great four-season plant for your bird-friendly garden. Holly is evergreen and provides plenty of shelter from bad weather within its leafy branches. The berries persist into the winter months, offering a source of food for hungry fruit-eating birds.
Asters (Symphyotrichum spp) are beautiful perennial plants that typically bloom in late summer or fall. Many asters continue blooming until the first frost. Don’t remove the seed heads after flowering because seed-eating birds will come forage on the dried seeds, giving them a source of cold-weather nutrition.
5. Watch Out for Invasives
Opting for non-invasive plants will save you considerable time and effort in maintaining your garden.
Invasive plant species can be a real nuisance for the home gardener, taking over the space where more bird-friendly plants could grow. Learn to identify some of the most common invasive plants in your region, and if you see them trying to creep into your garden, remove them before they have a chance to take over.
If you discover an invasive species you want to grow in your garden, look for a suitable substitute. You will save a lot of time and hassle by choosing plants that won’t constantly try to take over your plot.
6. Say Goodbye to Grass
Consider enhancing your yard by replacing some or all of your grass with plants appealing to birds.
You’ll need more than just turfgrass to attract birds to your yard. A uniformly green mowed lawn may make a good golf course but not a good habitat for birds, pollinators, or other wildlife. If your neighborhood HOA doesn’t prevent you from growing something else, add some diversity to your yard by removing part or all of your lawn and replacing it with bird-friendly plants.
No matter what size yard you have, if you convert even a small part of your lawn into wildlife habitat, you will have made a big step towards attracting birds. How do you create habitat?
First, a lawn is a monoculture with very little ecological value; get rid of the monoculture and grow many different plants. Second, a lawn offers no food or shelter; replace the grass with plants that offer a food source and places for birds to perch, rest, nest, and forage.
7. Create Structure
Different plants cater to different types of birds, enhancing the appeal of your garden to avian visitors.
Different birds occupy different types of habitats. Some live in or near water, others live in forests, in open woodlands, or grasslands. Commonly seen feeder birds, like cardinals and finches, have adapted to living in urban and suburban landscapes.
Different plants offer different types of structures. When you offer various plants, you cater to different types of birds. See if you can incorporate ground covers, low, medium, and tall flowering plants, vines, shrubs, and trees in your landscape. The more variety of shapes and sizes you have, the more variety of birds will be attracted to your yard.
Here are a few plants that increase structural diversity in your yard.
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) is great for attracting fruit-eating birds like mockingbirds and catbirds. These bushes bloom in the spring, providing nectar for pollinators, fruiting in the summer, and have beautiful red fall foliage. The bushy structure also provides hiding places for low-dwelling birds.
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a vine native to the southeastern United States. It has beautiful displays of bright red, trumpet-like flowers that hummingbirds adore. As the vines climb along a trellis or arbor, they also provide shelter and nesting sites for birds.
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) are a well-known and much-loved summer flower. Many seed-eating birds love sunflower seeds, and it is a lot of fun to watch them pick the seeds directly from the flowers. Sunflowers are tall annuals that are easily grown from seed.
8. Use Trees and Shrubs
Prioritize native tree and shrub species over non-native ornamental ones.
Birds use trees and shrubs for many reasons. Shrubs offer places for some birds to build nests, although not all birds nest in shrubs. Trees offer sheltered places for birds to perch, rest, and roost for the night. Trees and shrubs also provide a valuable source of food. Woodpeckers forage for insects on the bark, warblers forage for caterpillars on the leaves, and tree flowers, fruits, nuts, and seeds offer food sources for other birds and wildlife.
For the best benefits, look for native tree and shrub species rather than ornamental non-native species. Here are a few excellent shrubs and trees that birds love.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a small tree native to eastern North America. This tree blooms in the spring, attracting plenty of pollinators. By late summer and into fall, trees are often laden with small red fruits that attract birds and small mammals.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a fruiting shrub with species native to North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Serviceberries bloom in the springtime and attract butterflies and bees. Many species of fruit-eating birds enjoy the summer fruits. These bushes also provide shelter and nesting sites for birds.
The Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a large deciduous shade tree native to central and eastern North America. If you have room for this large shade tree, it can be a wonderful wildlife tree. It is a larval host plant for several species of butterflies. Birds are attracted to the large, showy flowers; these trees make excellent nesting and roosting sites for birds.
9. Don’t Spray Insecticides
To safeguard the well-being of wildlife, consider adopting organic gardening techniques.
When you spray insecticides to kill insects, you are not only killing the insects but also potentially harming the birds (and other predatory insects) that feed on the bugs you sprayed.
Practice organic gardening methods whenever you can to protect the health of the birds and other wildlife that utilize your landscape and help protect the health of our natural environment.
10. Create a Multi-species Buffet
Black oil sunflower seeds work well for attracting diverse bird species.
Just like people, birds have all sorts of different diets. Some eat insects, while others eat nectar, fruits, nuts, seeds, or berries. Many birds consume a regular variety of insects and vegetable matter. The more different types of food sources you can provide, the more variety of birds you can attract.
Hummingbirds feed on nectar and tiny insects. Finches eat primarily seeds but also supplement their diets with insects and fruits. Warblers primarily eat insects that they forage from the leaves of trees but will also eat seeds and fruits, particularly when insects are scarce. Woodpeckers and nuthatches eat insects foraged from tree bark and dead wood. Some birds will even forage on plant buds, flowers, and young leaves, particularly in the springtime.
Go ahead and install a birdfeeder. You can keep your feeder filled with seeds during the winter months or keep it stocked all year long. Black oil sunflower seeds are a great option for filling your feeders, as these will attract many diverse birds.
You can also use a more general seed mix. Do you want to attract woodpeckers, finches, and bluebirds? Install a suet feeder for even more variety! Be sure to use only fresh (not rancid) seeds and thoroughly clean your feeders several times each year to help keep the birds healthy.
11. Add a Birdhouse
Nest boxes offer convenient housing options for various birds in urban landscapes.
Are there bluebirds in your neighborhood? If so, offer a bluebird box in your yard, and you have a good chance of hosting a family of bluebirds. You can easily buy a ready-made bluebird box or build your own. Setting up a bluebird box and providing a good habitat for birds is a sure way to encourage your tenants to stick around and raise their young in and around your garden.
Bluebirds aren’t the only birds that will use birdhouses and nest boxes. Chickadees, titmice, wrens, owls, and wood ducks will all use the right type of box in the right habitat. These birds will nest in hollow cavities found in dead and dying trees in their natural habitat. In urban landscapes, however, nest boxes are a convenient housing option for cavity-nesting birds!
12. Offer a Water Source
Maintain the cleanliness of your bird bath, as birds prefer clean water for drinking and bathing.
Like all animals, birds need water. Birds need clean water for both drinking and bathing. They will bathe in shallow puddles after a rain, sit in the gentle mist of a sprinkler or mister, or flutter in a shallow bird bath. They typically use the same source of water for both drinking and bathing.
If you want to offer a water source, here are a few tips:
- Keep your bird bath clean. Birds don’t like to drink or bathe in scummy water.
- If cats are around, don’t place a bird bath directly on the ground.
- Make sure bird baths are shallow, no more than an inch or two deep, like a shallow puddle.
- Don’t add any chemicals to the water. Always use fresh, clean water for your birds.
- Refresh water frequently in the winter to provide a steady supply of non-frozen water for drinking.
13. Keep Cats Indoors
The common house cat is one of the most perilous threats to birds.
Do you have a cat? One of the most dangerous predators of birds is the common house cat. The best way to protect birds from cats is to keep your cats indoors. Even cats that are well-fed, wear bells, are lazy, or stay close to home may kill birds and other small wildlife.
Keeping your domestic cats indoors is also safer for your pets because it protects them from other predatory wildlife, other free-roaming cats and dogs, cars, fleas, and other parasites and diseases.
14. Watch Out For Windows
Birds often mistake window reflections for the continuation of trees and the sky, resulting in collisions.
You recognize that you can’t walk through glass, but birds don’t. Birds often see reflections in windows and think it’s a continuation of trees and sky, and they sometimes fly directly into windows at full speed.
Window strikes kill and injure many thousands of birds each year. Help protect birds from flying into your windows by placing window decals on the outside of your windows. Window decals placed on the inside don’t work because birds can’t see them through the window reflections.
16. Reconsider Snags
Substantial snags can serve as nesting locations for birds that nest in cavities.
Standing dead trees, known as snags, offer excellent bird benefits. Many people prefer to cut down a tree as soon as it shows signs of illness, but if there’s no risk of damage to houses, cars, or other property, standing dead trees benefit the natural environment.
Woodpeckers, wrens, and nuthatches love snags for foraging. Many birds use the bare branches of snags for open perches with great views. Large snags also offer possible nesting sites for cavity-nesting birds.
17. Leave Some Leaves (and Brush)
Leaving some leaf-covered areas provides ground-feeding birds with a foraging spot.
We live in a world where order and cleanliness rule. In the natural world, however, life is a bit more messy. Birds love “messy” yards. Leave some areas with leaves on the ground, and you will have a place for ground-feeding birds to forage. Create a brush pile, and you have also created a shelter for birds and other small animals.
Leave the dead flowerheads on your plants, and you provide a source of seeds for seed-eating birds. Don’t think of your yard as a “messy” yard. Think of it as a vibrant natural habitat.
18. Take Care of Your Garden
After planting your garden, the key is to ensure its ongoing maintenance.
Once you plant your garden, you will have to maintain it. Regular maintenance helps keep your garden looking great and helps your plants stay healthy and vibrant. A garden full of healthy plants is a great thing for the birds.
Make regular visits to your garden to check on your plants. While you’re out there, you can pull a few weeds, stake any tall flowering plants that may have fallen over, or give a bit of supplemental watering during drought. The time you spend caring for your garden is always well spent. You can certainly enjoy the plants while you’re out, and maybe you can also do some bird watching!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, absolutely! Even if you just have room for a single raised bed, you can still create a mini bird-friendly habitat. You can not only benefit birds but butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, too! You won’t be able to grow trees in a raised bed, but you can grow a nice assortment of plants that will attract birds. Try planting a variety of hummingbird-friendly plants, such as zinnia, Texas sage, and columbine to get you started.
Plenty of birds are well-adapted to urban landscapes. If you create a habitat for birds, they will find it. Birds travel by flying overhead, and they are constantly on the lookout for places to forage for food. All you really need to do is offer some combination of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. Include native species that provide seed, nectar, a place to forage for insects, and a place to rest and nest. When the birds spot your habitat, they will come to check it out.
Occasionally, you may have a problem with crows, starlings, or other nuisance birds that seem to eat all your bird seed and decimate your flower patch. Because birds are such highly mobile animals, there isn’t really much you can do. You can try scaring them off, but these methods may not work all the time or with all birds. If you are having problems with aggressive bird species mobbing your feeders, try removing your feeders for a while to encourage the nuisance birds to move on.
If you love birds and want to create a bird-friendly garden, there are plenty of things you can do to create a welcoming environment for birds, pollinators, and other small animals. One of the best things you can do for birds is to grow various native plants. Include plants with different structures, heights, and different blooming or fruiting periods for year-round sources of food and shelter. If you manage your yard in a bird-friendly way, it won’t take long for some feathered friends to find it and make themselves right at home!