There are few things more soothing than waking up to the sound of happily tweeting birds outside your window. It’s not hard to attract birds to your garden, and some species, such as the European starling and house sparrow, tend to show up in hordes whether you want them to or not. But if you want to attract a greater diversity of species, ranging from tiny yellow finches to enormous grey owls, it helps to create the appropriate habitat for them.
Plants that are native to your area are an excellent choice for attracting birdlife. But a wide range of commonly available plants, both native and exotic, will do the job. There are three main things to keep in mind when shopping for bird friendly plants.
Evergreen shrubs such as boxwood, holly and juniper are used as nesting sites for many species, but are also important as a protective hiding place for all species when a predator is near.
Different birds feed on different types of plants, but species with fruit or berries, such as crabapple, barberry and viburnum are particularly attractive to most song birds. You may also wish to plant species with large, abundant seed heads, such as ornamental millet or switch grass.
Planting a wide range of species is perhaps the most important principle of all. This will help you succeed in attracting a broad variety of birds, especially if you make the extra effort to use species that fruit at different times of year. Plants that hold onto their berries through the winter, such as pyracantha and most types of holly, are especially important.
How you arrange plants and other garden elements also makes a difference in the birds you will attract. In general, the denser the vegetation in your yard, the more birds you are likely to have. But even a yard dominated by a large open lawn can attract plenty of birds if it has dense shrubbery along the edges comprised of diverse plant types. Try layering large trees, small trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers in a single planting for maximum bird life benefit.
Avian infrastructure, such as birdbaths, feeders, and bird houses, need to be placed appropriately for birds to use them. Birdbaths, or other water features like fountains and ponds, are essential for drinking and bathing. If possible, locate water features in areas of the yard not frequented by pets. Encouraging dense vegetation around one side of a water feature helps birds feel safe in using it, as they will have a place to flit away to if they feel threatened. Feeders and birdhouses should be at least four feet (1.2 meters) off the ground—the higher the better—and may require protection from predators and competing species, such as squirrels and rodents.
The good news is that bird friendly gardens require very little maintenance. In fact, the wilder the garden is, the more attractive it will be to birds. Not that you won’t want to do maintenance for aesthetic reasons, but the less cutting back you do the better—you’ll not only reduce the available habitat, the sound of mechanized equipment can drive birds away from wanting to nest on your property.
But there are a few things that will need tending to:
- Clean out birdhouses in late fall each year, so they are fresh and ready for the following spring.
- Refresh the water in birdbaths at least once a week to keep it clean and inviting.
- Avoid using pesticides and other harsh chemicals in the landscape, as these may affect birds directly, or threaten insects and other creatures that are important food sources for your winged friends.
- Be sure to wash your hands after handling bird feeders, nesting boxes, or cleaning bird baths. Birds can carry pathogens that have the potential to cause illness in humans.
Have you created a bird sanctuary in your garden? Share with us which plants and features attract the most birds to your home in the comments below.