*Updated in May 2020 for accuracy
Make your garden healthy and attractive to birds.
I admit that I have taken the birds in my garden for granted. I enjoy the feathered friends who fly in, but I have only just come to understand that I can be proactive about attracting and supporting a variety of species.
I want lots of birds of many varieties in my garden because birds eat insects which I do NOT want to attract, like mosquitoes and aphids. Birds pollinate flowers – as in ‘the birds and the bees’. Birds can control weeds by eating their seeds. ‘Birdscaped’ landscapes are environmentally friendly because they use native plants which require fewer chemicals, fertilizer and often less water than imported species. In addition, I like the idea of compensating for the bird habitats that have been reduced by development.
So how do I birdscape to make my property more feather friendly? Sort of like humans – birds are attracted to a variety of healthy food, fresh flowing water and safe shelter.
Provide food which attracts birds.
Supply ample food for the birds who already share your yard. New species will be more likely to visit if they see feathered friends thriving. Different varieties of birds prefer an assortment of seeds. In addition to seeds birds like suet, fruit, nectar and nuts. Once you have supplied food for your existing birds, you can branch out to offer new foods to attract song birds, hummingbirds and others. Link to a guide to choosing bird seed.
Please note that birds should be fed year round if you feed them at all. Birds particularly need food in the bleak winter months so please don’t forget to fill your feeders. Bird feeders should be cleaned with a 10% non-chlorinated bleach solution several times a year to prevent the spread of disease. See more bird feeding dos and don’ts.
Set up safe bird feeders.
Image from Audubon.org
Provide native plants for birds.
Over time, local bids have adapted to native plants. These plants have adapted to your landscape and are typically easy to care for and do not require excess water, fertilizer or chemicals. They are environmentally friendly. They will support birds with both food and shelter. Link the Audubon guide and database for Native Plants in your area.
Offer several sources of fresh water, moving if possible.
Here are some considerations when choosing a bird bath. Small baths are easy to set up, move and clean. Big baths accommodate numerous birds and reduce territorial conflicts. Birds like some texture on the surface of the bath to give them grip. Small birds like a narrow lip. Water depth of one or two inches works for most birds, but you can find baths with a ‘deep end’ to accommodate more species.
Small birds feel safe in tall birdbaths which let them see further and keep ground threats away. Dove, quails and ducks prefer baths on the ground.
When you place your bird bath, avoid hazards like windows into which birds might fly. Place the bath to minimize access from predators. Avoid overhanging branches which will drop leaves and make it difficult to maintain clean, healthy water. Make the bath visible and easy for birds to find when in flight, but put it near a bush or tree that will give birds a safe retreat if they feel threatened. If you have automatic sprinklers, place your bath within reach of the spray and the water will be refreshed often. Spruce guide on how to choose a bird bath.
Providing birds with moving water complicates your effort, but it has many advantages. I try to avoid standing water which might be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Moving water in a birdbath tends to stay cleaner with less algae than standing water. You can get moving water with a fountain, a dripper, a bubbler or a spray. The sound of splashing water attracts birds. Bird fountains come in styles to suit every landscape and solar options make them ‘stand-alone’.
Birds seek safe, protected shelter.
Native shrubs and trees will provide shelter for some birds. For others, you can provide bird houses. Link to Birdhouses101 which is a guide to bird houses and the species they attract.
Here are some considerations on the design and placement of birdhouses:
- Make the birdhouse safe from predators. For instance, remove nearby branches which might serve as a bridge to a squirrel.
- Choose a ‘front door’ sized big enough to allow access to the bird species you want to attract, but not a predator.
- Provide ventilation so the birds will have fresh air and will not overheat. Metal houses tend to overheat and should be avoided. Metal trim is fine.
- The opening to the house should not let in direct sunlight or face strong prevailing winds.
- Choose a house that will keep the rain from getting inside.
- Houses should not be painted inside and avoid lead based paints outside.
At the end of the nesting season, the houses should be cleaned out. I didn’t know this. The birds in my yard must think that I am a terrible landlord!
Want to peek at some birds in the wild – real time? Check out these live Audubon birdcams from Maine to San Francisco. Link to live Audubon birdcams. The ultimate reality TV.
Read our article to learn about bird watching,
Header Photo Credit Rudmer Zwerver ©123RF