Backyard birding is enjoyable and rewarding for young and old alike. At the minimum, it consists of observing the birds that frequent your yard. If you would like to become actively involved in attracting birds to your yard, begin by considering what birds need to survive. Like all of us, they require food, shelter, and water. By tailoring part of your landscape to attract, feed, and shelter birds, you will start to see more birdlife in your yard.  You may also choose to augment your backyard birding by adding bird feeders, water sources, and bird houses. Your level of involvement can be anything from passive observation to full-on creation of a bird paradise.

Create a Bird Friendly Environment

Typically, native plants are best for attracting native birds as these plants provide the birds with the most familiar and abundant resources for food and shelter. Eliminate pesticide usage.

  • Insects are a major source of food for birds.
    • According to Doug Tallamy, professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, “ninety-six percent of terrestrial North American birds raise their young on insects. And not just any insects. Mostly caterpillars.” Native oaks support over 500 different species of caterpillar and native cherry, plum and willow trees support almost as many.
    • Keep some areas at the periphery of your yard naturalized. Leaf litter, longer grass, and piles of discarded brush are rich sources of insects.
  • Add native plants to your landscape that provide fruits, seeds and nuts.
  • Fruit:
    • Summer: cherry, chokecherry, raspberry, blueberry, grape
    • Fall: dogwood, bayberry, serviceberry, mountain ash, cotoneaster
    • Winter: Virginia creeper, crabapple, snowberry, sumac, viburnum
  • Nuts and seeds: Allow flowers, shrubs and grasses to go to seed instead of deadheading.
  • Conifers (some may also be sources of berries)
  • Nut-bearing trees such as oaks, beeches, buckeyes, chestnuts etc.
  • Native ornamental grasses
  • Native perennials such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans  
  • Tube shaped, nectar producing flowers, such as trumpet honeysuckle, salvia spp. and bee balm, to attract hummingbirds.
  • Provide layered vegetation.
    • Mature trees provide nesting spots, nuts, insects.
    • Shrubs and smaller trees provide fruit and nesting sites for small birds. Dense vegetation can protect smaller birds from predators.
    • Low growing plants such as perennials, annuals and groundcover provide seeds and nectar.
Fall Berries

Bird Feeders

Attract even more birds to your yard using feeders. It will be easier for you to see and enjoy the birds as they make use of the feeders. Hang feeders from tree branches or mount on poles. Make sure to use squirrel baffles in order to protect your feeders and save the seed for the birds! All bird feeders need to be cleaned periodically as damp seed can be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.

  • Tube feeder: Fill with black oil or traditional sunflower seeds, safflower seeds or seed mix. Attracts small birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, and purple and house Finches. Safflower seed has the advantage of not being attractive to squirrels.
  • Thistle or Nyjer Seed feeder: A favorite of chickadees and finches, these specialized feeders have small holes that make the seed available only to small-beaked birds. 
  • Hopper feeder:  Can often hold several pounds of seed protected from the elements. Birds hopping on the feeder trigger the release of seeds. Attractive to most birds, including finches, jays, cardinals, grackles buntings, grosbeaks, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice. Very susceptible to squirrels- squirrel proofing required.
  • Tray Feeder: Attracts a wide variety of species, even those that avoid other types of feeders. Can be mounted on a pole, hung from a tree branch or placed close to the ground. Some have roofs to protect seed from rain and snow. Particularly susceptible to raids by squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife.
  • Window Feeder: Small plastic feeders that attach to your window using suction cups or hooks that provide an up-close view. Visitors may include chickadees, finches, titmice and sparrows.
  • Suet Feeder: Typically, a cage constructed from wire mesh or plastic-coated wire mesh. Suet feeders can be affixed directly to a tree trunk, hung, or attached to the side of a hopper feeder. Suet attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and starlings. Do not put out suet in the heat of summer as it will melt and may become rancid.
  • Hummingbird Feeder: Usually glass or plastic in variety of shapes and sizes, some are highly decorative and typically sport red feeding ports to attract the hummers. Purchase premade hummingbird nectar or make your own.

Bird baths and fountains can provide important sources of water for the birds in your yard for drinking, bathing and preening. A water source may attract birds to your yard that may not otherwise be attracted by your feeders.

  • Birds are typically attracted to moving water
  • Keep bird baths free of ice in winter. Some have built in heating elements for this.
  • Change the water in bird baths frequently to prevent disease.
  • The water should be a maximum of 2 inches deep. A bird bath that is too deep can be a drowning hazard for smaller birds.
  • Place a few stones in the water so birds can stand on them to drink without getting wet and so that smaller birds feel comfortable.
Bird Houses

The more attractive your property is to birds, the more likely you are to attract nesting birds. Abundant food supplies, water, and areas of dense vegetation that afford protection from predators and weather are important. 

  • Put your birdhouses up before the start of breeding season. Early to mid-March is ideal.
  • Leave the birdhouse up through fall and winter as a roosting box.
  • Place in a relatively private area, away from bird feeders and bird baths as a lot of nearby activity can make brooding parents anxious.
  • Make sure that bird house is safe from predators. Mounting on a metal pole makes it more difficult for predators to access than mounting on a tree or wooden pole.
  • Space birdhouses at least 25’ apart as many species are territorial.
  • Mount houses securely, at least 5’ off the ground or higher, depending on the species you hope to attract.
  • Design requirements:
    • Hinged side that makes it easy to clean
    • Sloped roof to encourage rain to run off
    • Drainage holes on the bottom to allow rain to escape
    • Ventilation halls towards the top of the walls
    • No perches on the front will discourage nuisance birds like starlings and house sparrow.
    • Entrance hole 1 3/8” in diameter or smaller, depending on the desired occupants.

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