1. Find a Bird-Friendly Corner of Your Yard

The first step toward attracting birds to your yard is picking a corner of your yard to focus your efforts. You’ll want to place feeders, bird baths, and other offerings where you can enjoy watching from your home. However, you’ll also need to make sure there is sufficient greenery and cover nearby so that birds feel safe enough to explore. Birds can also be territorial, so you’ll want to space out bird food and shelter options to maximize your yard’s bird traffic.

4. Add a Water Source

Adding a bird bath or water source is the next step in learning how to attract birds to your yard. When water is available, many species of birds will bathe every day to keep their feathers clean and healthy. Offering shallow bird baths (one to three inches deep) or even building a small pond in your yard will help birds stay clean and hydrated.

Birds listen for moving water, so adding a pump or

Birds listen for moving water, so adding a pump or mister that creates fresh, bubbling water will draw even more feathered friends to your yard. If you live in a cold climate, you may also want to invest in a heater or de-icer to keep your bird bath or pond from freezing. Birds bathe year-round, but often struggle to find water sources in the winter, so having fresh water will make your yard a desirable destination.

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6. Install a bird house

The shelter is a key factor in making birds feel safe and more likely to make your yard their home. Install a birdhouse to entice birds to stay, by providing safe and reliable shelter for them. Of course, not all birds like birdhouses, but those that do have different needs and preferences depending on the species. 

More common occupants of birdhouses include sparrows, chickadees, and bluebirds, but many species will use a birdhouse, so choose the size and type depending on the type of birds you want to attract. In general small birds like small houses and large birds will use large houses. 

If you want to attract chickadees, wrens, or other small birds, an 8-inch tall house, with a 4 by 6 or 5 by the 5-inch base is generally acceptable while the larger the bird, the larger the house it will need, with owls needing houses as large as 24 inches tall with a 10 by 10-inch base (3). In addition to the size of the house, an important aspect of selecting the right house includes the size of the entrance hole. 

Follow the adage above regarding size, and check breed-specific requirements for the specific birds you are trying to attract. And lastly, installing location is important when it comes to birdhouses. Install your birdhouse in a safe location, high enough off the ground to encourage birds to find safety in their house.

Birds Love Peanuts

Chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers and woodpeckers all love peanut pieces. Mix them with seed, or hang a special peanut feeder to attract extra attention. Peanuts in the shell are favorites of blue jays. Watch for fussy jays to pick up several peanuts before choosing just the right one.

New Shelter

Birds like to feel protected and secure, and if they are uncertain about the safety of an area they will not visit it regularly. By adding more shelter to your backyard, you entice even the shiest birds to stop by.

  • Landscaping: Opt for bird-friendly landscaping that features native plants in tiers or clumps to provide familiar shelter for your regional birds. Add new plants to an unused area of your yard, or increase the density of existing plants for more secure cover. To make the plants do double duty, choose trees and shrubs with seeds and fruits the birds will enjoy as a natural food source.
  • Brush pile: Build a brush pile in a secluded section of your yard to offer instant shelter to birds. This is a great way to recycle a Christmas tree or prunings from landscaping projects, and small birds such as sparrows and finches will eagerly flock to a brush pile when they feel threatened.
  • Roost boxes: Adding a roost box to your yard will give backyard birds a safe, warm place to settle on cold winter evenings. Many small birds, including bluebirds, chickadees, and wrens will readily use roost boxes.

How to attract songbirds into the garden

Knowing which food songbirds like to eat is key for increasing the number of birds you attract, and therefore boosts the chances you’ll get to hear a beautiful dawn chorus.

Even amongst the different types of songbird species, there is a range of different food that each one prefers, so it may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best in your local area.

What food can support songbirds?

● Insects● Larvae● Earthworms, mealworms and waxworms● Dried fruit like raisins and currants● Sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts● Finely grated mild cheese

Some bird species eat up to 12% of their body weight daily, which means that having a constant supply of energy-rich songbird food that can be easily located and consumed is an extremely attractive prospect for them.

Some songbirds prefer to feed off the ground, whilst others prefer perching up high, so experiment with different garden bird feeders depending on what space you have available. (Remember, if you have garden visitors like hedgehogs, mealworms, raisins, currents, and cheese can be bad for them, so we recommend making sure they can’t access these foods either by keeping them out of reach or by putting a wire frame over the food.)

What to plant to encourage songbirds

Carolyn Dunster, specialist in urban gardening and author of Urban Flowers, says: “In order to attract songbirds it is worth planting trees and shrubs that bear fruits in order to provide something for them to feed on. In small gardens and on balconies and terraces there are miniature tree varieties that can be grown in pots and containers. Any trees with small berries such as ornamental cherries provide wonderful flowering blossoms in spring that develop into small fruits that are a favourite for songbirds such as thrushes, sparrows and robins.

A shrub such as Viburnum tinus can be used for boundary hedging or to disguise an ugly wall and produces white-pink flowers with a lovely fragrance and then attractive dark black clusters of fruits that provide further feasting for small birds.”

● Trees that bear small berries, such as ornamental cherries● Shrubs such as Viburnum tinus● Dandelions● Honeysuckles● Sunflowers

Charlotte Dew, urban landscape architect at URBED, says: “There’s a lot of interlinked food chains to consider. A higher insect population means more food for birds. It’s a good idea to hold back from weeding dandelions to help the insects make it through to summer when more food sources are about. Having a wild area of your garden where insects can thrive undisturbed from ‘garden tidying/prettying’ is also a way to support wildlife.

Having even a very small water feature such as a bucket of water with aquatic plants is a great way of boosting the ecological value of a garden, and is possible in even the smallest of urban gardens.”

3. Replace Non-native Plants with More Nutritious Natives

As a tool for attracting songbirds to the garden, native plants provide a balanced diet of seeds and fruits that ripen at critical times. The more natives you plant, the more insects you draw, and the more varieties of songbirds that will visit.

birdbath in blooming garden with flowers nearby Credit: Bob Stefko

Large Trees Deciduous

Hickory (Carya species) C P M Favorite squirrel food; slow-growing except rich sites
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) C P M Fast-growing; fallen seed balls may be nuisance
Yellow poplar, tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) C P M Fast-growing in fertile soil; food plant for tiger swallowtail caterpillars
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) C P Fast-growing even on poor soils; fallen seed balls may be a nuisance
White oak (Quercus alba) P M Rich soil; slow-growing
Southern red oak (Q. falcata) C P Moderate soil fertility
Chestnut oak (Q. prinus) P M Moderate soil fertility
Swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii) C Moderate soil fertility
Laurel oak (Q. laurifolia) C P Moderate soil fertility; semi-evergreen
Water oak (Q .nigra) C P Moderate soil fertility
Black oak (Q. velutina) C P Moderate soil fertility
Willow oak (Q. phellos) C P Moderate soil fertility
Red mulberry (Morus rubra) C P M Outstanding berry tree for birds; fertile soils
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) C P M Tolerates a variety of conditions; does best in full sunlight; only female trees bear fruit
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) C P M Excellent hummingbird and butterfly tree but susceptible to blight
Hackberry, sugarberry (Celtis species) C P Fast-growing under a variety of conditions; good berry tree for robins and other songbirds
River birch (Betula nigra) C P Fast-growing; moderate fertility; larval host for polyphemus moth (native silk moth)
Wild cherry, black cherry (Prunus serotina) C P M Tolerates a variety of conditions; does best in full sunlight; host for tiger swallowtail caterpillar
Red maple (Acer rubrum) C P M
Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) C P M Only females produce fruits; will grow under a variety of conditions
C = Coastal P = Piedmont M = Mountain

4. Install a bird bath

Attracting birds to your yard is more than just providing a reliable food source. All birds need water, so install a bird bath to lure more birds to your yard with a water source. 

While a basic birdbath is a great start, upgrading your birdbath and water features is a sure way to attract more birds – for example solar bird bath. The sound of moving water is magnetic to most wild birds and curious species will come to investigate even from great distances.

Adding movement to a stationary bird bath is as simple as installing a mister, dripper, or circulating pump. If resources permit, consider adding an even bigger feature, such as a waterfall or pond, to attract even more birds with the lure of water. 

A stable water source will be a big draw and a single source may become crowded, so consider multiple water sources or several bird baths to attract more birds. By doing this, you can create different water environments, like static, moving, or even misting, to appeal to different species. 

Related9 Best Heated Bird Baths to -30°F [to Unfreeze Water]

9. Avoid Herbicides, Pesticides, and Fertilizers

Any of these substances can be deadly to birds and other wildlife. A better bet to attracting songbirds to the garden is to rely on biological controls for insect pests and keep weeds down by pulling them when they are small and before they have a chance to go to seed.

Food Cover

Trees: This will be the penthouse of your backyard sanctuary. Try to plant a variety of canopy tree species in your backyard. While space will probably be a concern for most homeowners, proper planning should also take into consideration tree size at maturity and other concerns such as the provision of shade, litter accumulation and root interference. Some hardwood species that are recommended for our region include oaks, hickories, maples, wild cherry, tulip poplars, sweetgum, sycamore and elm. All of these species provide cover for nesting canopy birds such as red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceous), summer tanagers (Piranga rubra), scarlet tanagers (P. olivacea), Baltimore orioles (Ictera galbula), orchard orioles (Ictera spurius), and a variety of warblers and other species. Many hardwood species also provide important foods (acorns, nuts and fruits) for birds.

Pines also make good additions to the landscape since many species will grow anywhere. Their cones provide important food resources for a number of species and they also provide important cover year-round. Besides, how do you expect to attract pine warblers (Dendroica pinus) or brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) to your sanctuary without them? In South Carolina the loblolly is the most common and probably easiest to grow. White, shortleaf and Virginia pines do well in the Piedmont and mountains while longleaf pine, an important component of pine-wiregrass ecosystems, does well in sandy Coastal Plain soils. Red cedar is also a valuable tree species because it provides excellent cover and fruits from female specimens.

Snags, or standing dead trees, are also an important component of most natural systems. They provide foraging and/or nesting sites for cavity-nesting woodpeckers, bluebirds, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and great-crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus). Moreover, cavities and loose bark will also provide roost sites for bats. Where safety and feasibility allow, dead and dying trees should be left standing to complement your sanctuary.

Mid-Story/Understory Trees: A few stories down from the penthouse lies the understory. Species such as dogwood, sourwood, blackgum, holly, sparkleberry, persimmon, mulberry and redbud provide some of the most abundant stores of fruits and berries to be found in the forest. This layer is where many species like wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina), Swainson’s thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) and rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) will go to refuel during fall migration as they head to warmer climes south of the border.

Shrubs/Vines: These are the efficiency apartments in your backyard sanctuary. Shrubs will provide many species with nesting and escape cover, and food. Good shrubs to include in your landscape include viburnums, blueberries (Vacciniums) and hollies (Ilex). Not only will species like northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), gray catbirds (Dumatella carolinensis) and brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum) nest there, these and many other shrub varieties will provide fruits as added benefits.

Vines such as coral honeysuckle, trumpet vine, Virginia creeper and yellow jessamine (South Carolina state flower) can provide a thicket in which many birds love to nest and forage. Of course many of these species are also attractive to ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Blackberries (Rubus) are some of the best plantings to have in your backyard. They provide food, nesting cover and loitering habitats for the Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) that will inevitably find your backyard wilderness irresistible.

Open Ground/Lawns: This is the basement of your yard. Open ground and grass lawns are common components of suburbia. Unfortunately, they provide relatively little for songbirds. It is true that American robins (Turdus migratorius) and a few other species such as eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) require open habitats in suburban landscapes. But unless you are planning to farm the back forty for hay, why not give yourself a break time- and money-wise by reducing the size of your lawn? Let your wilderness of canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs and vines encroach upon your lawn. This will create a naturalized look that is both pleasing to the eye and ecologically functional. And you will have more time to invest in watching birds instead of mowing, feeding and watering the lawn.

Leave a Little Garden Debris in Winter

Instead of doing a thorough cleanup in the fall, let birds like goldfinches enjoy the seedpods, leaf piles, dropped fruit and other natural materials that usually get cleared away weeks earlier.

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