Songbirds’ natural habitats are dwindling, and you can help by making your backyard a safe haven for all of your favorite birds. When you provide birdseed, set out a birdbath and create nesting spots, your yard becomes much more inviting, and you’ll be amazed at how many different species you can attract.
Research birds in your area. Find out what types of birds live in your area or migrate there and are likely to come to your property. You may want to obtain a field guide to the area so you know which birds you want to try to attract. Bear in mind that you’ll be attracting different species depending on the season.
It’s difficult to attract just one type of bird, so aim instead to create an atmosphere that’s healthy for many different species. For example, you might love cardinals and decide to put out seed they’re known to love, but it’s likely to bring in an array of birds.
There may also be some species you don’t want to attract, such as the common sparrow, pigeon or crow. While it’s difficult to ensure they won’t come around, you can choose certain types of seed that don’t attract them as much as songbirds.
Choose a bird feeder. The type of feeder you choose will influence what bird species you attract. No matter what, your bird feeder should have a few essential qualities: it should be difficult for squirrels to access, it should keep the food dry, and it should be easy to clean. Bird feeders need to be washed out regularly so the food inside doesn’t begin to harbor fungus and disease. Here are the most common types of feeders:
Tray feeders are simple, flat trays that allow birds very easy access to seed. The downside is that the seed is also accessible to squirrels, and unprotected from the weather.
House feeders keep seed in a contained area and dispense it as the birds feed from a small tray at the bottom of the feeder.
Window feeders attach to your window with suction cups, offering a full view of bird activity.
Suet feeders are designed to offer suet cakes, which attract different birds than seed feeders do.
Hummingbird feeders dispense sugar water through a tube.
Provide seed and other food. Do you know what species you’re hoping to attract? If you’d like to invite an entire range of native species, it’s a good idea to have more than one type of feeder and offer a variety of foods. Here are the best foods to feed birds:
Sunflower seeds are popular among all seed-eating birds, so they’re a good choice if you want a wide variety of species. However, the shells must be raked up frequently, and sunflower seeds are also attractive to squirrels.
White proso millet is a tasty treat for cardinals, quail, sparrows, doves, and crows. It’s also attractive to house sparrows and other animals.
Safflower seeds are good for attracting cardinals, chickadees, doves, sparrows, and grosbeaks.
Corn is a favorite among nearly all birds, but it’s important to use only as much as can be eaten in a day or two, since it attracts all sorts of animals. It’s also important to be careful about the source of the corn, since cheap corn is often contaminated with pesticides that are poisonous to birds. Don’t feed birds corn from a plastic bag or corn that has been dyed red.
Peanuts are also very popular, but easily contaminated if they’re left out for too long.
Suet, the fat around cow and sheep organs, attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens jays and starlings.
Peanut butter is a good food to provide in the winter, since it’s highly nutritious. Make sure it doesn’t contain additives.
Hummingbirds love to drink sugar water.
Know what foods to avoid. Birds can easily be poisoned by food that’s contaminated or contains ingredients that are hard on their systems. Be sure to buy high-quality seed or suet. Some manufacturers of bird food take shortcuts to offer cheap bags of food, so it’s worth it to spring for a more expensive brand. Here are a few foods to avoid putting out:
Fillers like red millet, golden millet and flax. Birds don’t enjoy eating these seeds, but you’ll often see them used as fillers in cheap mixes. Be sure to check the ingredients.
Bacon drippings or other meats. These often contain nitrates and other ingredients harmful to birds.
Bread, crackers or other processed carbohydrates can have ingredients that are harmful.
Install the feeder in a safe location. If you want the feeder to be near enough for you to view it from your house, place it within three feet of your window. Placing it further away is actually dangerous for birds, since they’ll be flying toward the feeder at a faster speed and may collide with the glass (a situation that kills millions of birds every year). The feeder should also be far enough away from tree cover so as to prevent squirrels from being able to jump from a tree to the feeder.
Keep the feeder maintained. It’s important to change the food frequently and clean the feeder with soap and water every few weeks. If you don’t, fungus and bacteria can contaminate the feeder and the food, potentially killing birds who eat it. In addition to cleaning the feeder, keep these pointers in mind:
Food that has fallen to the ground should not be left to sit there, as it can attract insects and other undesirable animals.
Pay closer attention to the feeder during rainy times, since if the food gets wet the seeds could sprout and begin to harbor fungus and bacteria.
Provide grit for the birds. Birds don’t have teeth to chew their food, so some species swallow bits of sand to grind the food in their gizzard. You can help by offering crushed eggshells; this serves a dual purpose by giving the birds calcium needed for egg-laying. Be sure to bake the eggshells to kill Salmonella and other pathogens before offering them.
Crushed oyster shells are another good choice.
You could also scatter small pebbles near the bird feeder.
Creating Nesting Spots
Plant native species. Use a local field guide or call your local Audubon Society chapter (if you live in the US) to find out what grows naturally in your region, and add these plants to your garden. They likely than non-native species to attract birds. A good variety of native trees, shrubs, and grasses will provide natural shelter for birds.
Evergreen trees and shrubs, such as hollies, make great homes for birds over the winter.
Many birds are attracted to fruit and berries, so consider planting an apple tree or planting a blueberry bush.
Offer shelter. Different species nest in different places, so again, it’s a good idea to conduct research on the type of bird you wish to attract. If you are planning on buying a birdhouse or building a nesting box, take note that boxes with different holes, shapes, and orientations will attract different species.
Make sure that your nest box has adequate ventilation, and is supplied with a “baffle” and reinforcement ring at the opening that will prevent predators from entering.
You can also provide nesting material such as string, hair, or other fibers. You could also stuff mesh bags with pieces of yarn or string, straw, pet fur, hair from your comb, small bits of cloth, and anything a bird can use to make a nest. Hang the bag near the nest boxes in spring.
Create a nesting spot using natural materials. If you’d like to create a more natural nesting spot, an easy way to do it is to allow your yard to grow a little more wild. Let the grass grow long in a certain spot, and build a brush pile in the area. This simulates the type of area where birds tend to nest in the wild.
Heap up fallen branches into a large pile instead of chopping them up to burn or throw away.
Create small nesting sites under your bushes by raking mulch around their bases, especially in the fall.
Don’t remove dead trees unless they are a danger. Standing dead trees are important nesting and foraging spots for many species, especially woodpeckers, which eat the insects that infest dead trees.
Making Your Yard More Inviting
Provide a water source. Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping or moving water. You can buy a birdbath or create a shallow pond with a fountain. Make sure it’s close to the ground and not made of slippery material. If you’re short on time or resources, you can hang a water-filled container with a hole on the bottom above a dish. Try not to place the water source near trees or bushes where cats can hide before pouncing. Also, make sure the water is not more than 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.
During the winter, you might want to provide a heated water source, since birds would otherwise have to thaw icy water using their own body heat.
Make sure the water you provide doesn’t grow stagnant or harbor algae. Find one that’s easy to clean.
Don’t use pesticides on your lawn. They’re harmful to birds in more ways than one. First, they kill vital sources of food for some bird species. Second, the chemicals in the pesticides can be dangerous for birds to ingest. In order to attract birds to your property, use natural forms of insect control instead of chemicals.
Keep cats away. Cats are one of the major predators of songbirds, killing millions every year. No matter how hospitable your yard otherwise seems, having a cat prowling around will keep many species from feeling welcome. If you’re dedicated to attracting birds, keep your cat away from their feeding, drinking and nesting areas.
Different birds like different nesting boxes. Go on the internet and find some bird house plans for birds around you.
Try to buy bird houses made by companies that mainly sell bird-related items. They will be better-quality houses that are more protective.
Don’t be discouraged if birds don’t immediately come to your sanctuary. Birds are often wary of changes in their environment and will take time to adjust to the new feeder or bath.
Also try to feed a variety of seed and suet.
Keep your feeders, houses and water sources clean.
If you don’t have the motivation, time, or resources to create a bird sanctuary in your yard, you can always contribute to a “communal” bird sanctuary. Donate money and/or volunteer hours to conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy that buys tracts of land and saves them from development.
Don’t rake the leaves. Birds will forage for insects hiding under dead leaves in the spring.
Avoid touching the birds eggs/nest if you come across them.
During winter, never add antifreeze to the water. Antifreeze is highly toxic and will kill any bird, animal, or pet that drinks it, and can cause severe damage or death in humans as well. Antifreeze also tastes sweet, which can serve as incentive for any animals that even happen to smell or taste it. You can buy heaters designed to defrost ponds, fountains, or birdbaths. Floating a tennis ball in the water will also allow you to break and remove ice easily.
Don’t place nestboxes too close together. Each bird will establish its own territory, and conflict will ensue.
Never give a bird dryer lint that contains dye or chemicals (used in the process of making clothing non-flammable) for nesting material. It is very dangerous. Otherwise it is acceptable.
Try to avoid using chemical pesticides – parents that are foraging for food will bring poisoned insects back to the nest and entire generations of baby birds can be killed because someone sprayed poison on their sweetcorn. Become an organic gardener!
How to Build a Bird Bath
How to Bird Watch
How to Build a Birdhouse
How to Feed the Birds
How to Calibrate Binoculars
How to Find and Take Care of Wild Bird Eggs
How to Be a Birdwatcher
How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
How to Create a Fantasy Garden
How to Attract People to Buy Your Birds
Sources and Citations
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