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How to Attract Birds to Your Yard

Having wild birds visit your yard adds fun and excitement to everyday life, but how do you get them to visit? If you provide the necessities of life for the birds – shelter, water, food – and apply them with care, you can turn your yard into a great bird habitat! Here are some helpful tips and check out our Design a Garden for Backyard birding article by our very own nature guide Mrs. Silvia Barr! Design a Garden for Backyard Birding

Feeding

One of the quickest ways to start attracting birds to your yard is by providing food. This can be done in a multitude of ways, with different styles attracting different birds. It is best to do your feeding in the cool months, when birds are more apt to come in to feeders. In summer not only does the food go bad quickly, but most birds have ample natural food items to choose from.

  • Seed

    Putting out bird seed is one of the most common ways to feed birds. There are many varieties of seed mixes that you can purchase, but most of them are usually comprised of sunflower seeds (black-oil or striped), milo, and millet seeds. Different birds have different seed and placement preferences, so try to cover all your bases; put up a hanging feeder, but also scatter seed on the ground. Try only putting out sunflower seeds in certain areas, and mixed seed in others. Doves, sparrows, cardinals, titmice, and jays are some of the birds that will enjoy seeds.

  • Fruit

    The sweet pulp of fruit is another attractant to many birds. Many nature centers will make hanging branch feeders with nails and stick bits of fruit on them (see example photo). Normally oranges are used, but other fruits are an option. Birds like the Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Plain Chachalaca, and various oriole species cherish oranges!

  • Suet

    Suet comes in many flavors and varieties, and can easily be bought in small blocks from your local supermarket. It goes bad quickly in hot weather, so only use in cool months

  • Peanut Butter Suet

    – this is a great cold weather food item; it is a high energy food that birds love. However, it is important that you supply it properly. If served plain, peanut butter is a very sticky substance, and may cause the bird problems. The following recipe is a good way to make sure your peanut butter is safe for birds.

Other Attractants

Having a water feature in your yard, whether it is a small trickling stream or a makeshift bird bath (often these are better than the ones sold in stores), is one of the best ways to attract birds, especially in the summer heat. The water in a bird bath shouldn’t be much more than an inch or two deep. Make sure to change the water frequently if it is still-standing, otherwise bacteria, algae, or other harmful growths may develop. It also important to keep your bird bath near a bush or shrub for cover, and not too high off the ground (birds prefer lower placement). It is a real treat to see a bird bathing or drinking from water in your yard.

Hummingbird feeders are not only good for hummingbirds, but will also attract orioles and even Golden-fronted Woodpeckers! Sometimes birds will drink water from the ant-traps above the hummingbird feeders as well, providing a secondary use.

Cavities

Many birds are cavity nesters, using holes in trees and other substrates as a home for their eggs and young. Because of this, these birds are often reliant on whether there is a cavity available; if unavailable, they will often not breed. Having suitable snags (dead branches or trees) for these cavity nesters is important, and can be a way to bring these birds into your yard.

The most popular tree for cavity nesters is the palm tree – once dead, a palm tree may stand for many years, providing homes for woodpeckers, and other cavity nesters who come after. If you have a dead palm tree in your yard that is not in danger of falling and damaging you or your neighbor’s property, you might consider letting it stand – you may get Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Green Parakeets, or Red-crowned Parrots nesting in your “palm tree condo”!

Another practice to bring in cavity nesters is to put up nest boxes. Many birds require certain dimensions of box, so do your research before buying or building your own box. Purple Martin houses can support many of the large swallows, but can also quickly become a home for House Sparrows.

Landscaping

You need more than just food and water to attract birds to your yard; you also need suitable cover for the birds to take shelter. Many birds will not feel comfortable going to feeders and water features unless there is a good cover bush or tree nearby – something to keep in mind when you plan out your feeding stations. Also, many birds, like some warblers and vireos, simply will not utilize feeders and need more natural settings in which to forage for food.

Planting native trees, shrubs, and ground covers is probably the best long-term and steady way to attract birds to your yard. Not only do these plants provide important cover and nesting sites, but also host a variety of insects and fruits that birds rely on for nourishment. See our “Why Plant Natives” section for great plant options!

Challenges

There are challenges to be aware of when trying to attract birds to your yard. The first is the challenge of maintenance and upkeep. It is always very important to make sure that all of your feeders, water features, and bird food items are all clean – rotting and molding food and feeders can be dangerous to bird health! Clean your bird seed feeders every couple weeks when you are putting out seed, and take off old and rotting oranges from your fruit feeders (you can throw leftovers into your compost).

Another challenge is being patient. Birds are not going to magically appear the moment you start to put out food and water; it takes time (sometimes surprisingly little!) for birds to locate new resources. However, once they find them, you will have regular bird visitors!

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