If you live in an apartment in the city and have a balcony, you can attract birds to this relatively small area. The method you use and the variety of birds you attract will depend on your understanding of the behaviors and preferences of the birds most likely to visit your balcony. It’s a bit different than attracting birds to a yard, but many of the principles are still the same.
To attract birds to a city balcony, offer the best types of no-mess feed and smaller feeders for the birds likely to visit. Provide water sources like small bird fountains and shallow bowls. You can also incorporate potted or hanging native plants. Keep the balcony clean and free of distractions.
If you have never done this before, it may feel like there is a lot to consider but actually, you just need to know a few tips and tricks and then scale everything down. I will take you through the whole process so here we go. Let’s begin with a critical step – asking your building for permission!
1. Get Permission To Create a Balcony Bird Habitat
Before building a balcony bird habitat, you need to ask your building for permission.
If you rent, you should also check your lease. If you own your condo or apartment, you should also ask your HOA. Some buildings will be much stricter than others and have guidelines, bylaws, and restrictions that may prohibit some or all of the following:
- Drawing wildlife of any kind to a city balcony.
- The use of items that will damage the balcony and its railings, such as nails, screws, hooks, and feeders.
- Increasing the likelihood of birds flying into windows or the reflective glass of a balcony when they fly away from feeders
- The possibility of bird droppings and seeds soiling a balcony, falling onto lower balconies, and falling onto building ledges and cars
If you violate building restrictions, you may face financial penalties or worse so definitely do not skip this step.
2. Know the Birds Most Likely To Visit Your Balcony
Before you jump into purchasing bird feeders and other equipment for your balcony bird habitat, you first need to do a bit of research. The first step is knowing which birds are most likely to visit your balcony based on your zip code and the height of your balcony.
STEP 1 – First identify the birds in your zip code – you can use ebird to do this, Merlin Bird ID’s “Likely Birds Today” feature (for iOS, and Android) or call the Audubon society in your area.
For example, if you live in New York City, eBird indicates that, in addition to pigeons, ducks, and geese, some of the birds that often appear are Mourning Doves, Sparrows, Juncos, Finches, Eastern Towhees, Blackbirds, Grackles, and Northern Cardinals. Songbirds like Warblers appear during migration.
STEP 2 – Then consider the birds you are most likely to attract to your balcony based on how high they fly. The average height of each floor of a building is about 10 feet so if you live on the 20th floor you are about 200 feet up. Most birds fly less than 500 feet above the ground during their typical day. However, there are smaller birds like sparrows and hummingbirds that can live and fly at 16,000 feet.
If your balcony is on a high floor, you are more likely to attract birds like mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, and finches. Some apartment dwellers on higher floors have successfully attracted Hummingbirds during the spring. If your balcony is lower, or if you live near a birding hotspot, you may be able to attract a wider variety of birds, including songbirds,
3. Identify the Preferred Feed of Balcony Birds
Identifying the types of food that the birds most likely to visit your balcony will enjoy is very important. There are two reasons for this: if you provide the wrong types of food, even the birds who discover your balcony won’t stay for long, and probably won’t return. In addition, the type of food you will provide will help you determine the kinds of feeders you will use.
There are so many types of bird feed to select from Black-oiled sunflower seeds, shelled sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, mixed seed, white proso millet, cracked corn, nyjer seed (also called Thistle seed,) chopped peanuts, and live (mealworm) feed.
4. Identify the Size and Behaviors of Balcony Birds
The types of feeders that birds will eat from are based on their foraging behaviors (if they are ground feeders, for example,) their ability to comfortably perch while eating (big birds like bigger perches), the ease of positioning themselves so that they can place their beaks where the food portals are (if you are a big bird at a small feeder, this can be difficult,) and if they are passive or aggressive (little guys like finches are easily bullied by bigger birds).
Birds that are ground feeders – like Juncos and Mourning Doves -like platform or tray feeders that are located close to or on the ground the best. The larger feeders will provide plenty of space for them to perch while they are eating. However, Mourning Doves and Juncos will still eat from large platforms or trays that are mounted, and will also eat from large Hopper feeders as long as they have a nice large area for them to easily perch on.
In contrast, a large bird like a Mourning Dove will not generally feed from a tube feeder – the perches are too small for this big guy and he would have a tough time positioning his beak at the feeding portal while perching.
Sparrows also like ground, tray, or platform feeders the best and will also eat from them if they are mounted. In addition, they will eat from window feeders.
Finches prefer eating from caged tube feeders (that keep the large and more aggressive dominating tube feeder birds away) as well as nyjer feeders that they can cling to while eating.
5. Use No-Mess Feeders and Bird Feed
To attract birds to a city balcony, you will want to use bird feeders that don’t make a mess – so be careful when using platform feeders. They are great for viewing birds since they are open to view from all sides but they can create quite a mess and also draw very large birds like pigeons and crows which you may want to deter.
You can also purchase feeders with built-in trays that catch discarded bird seeds and other spillages. Also, consider placing a tray or vinyl flooring underneath your feeders so that any discarded or dropped feed does not end up on the floor of your balcony or worse on the balcony below yours!
Finally, when possible, you will want to use feed like shelled seeds, nyjer, nectar, and suet since they are less messy than other kinds of feed like unshelled seeds, fruit, and mealworms. You want to keep the mess down for easy cleaning and to not attract rodents and bird mites.
6. Use Smaller Size Bird Feeders for a Balcony
Given the choices, I think the best bird feeders to attract birds to a city balcony should be relatively small-sized tube bird feeders and nyjer bird feeders that you can hang. You will have limited space and there is no need to purchase feeders that are outsized for your area. If you want to attract larger birds, you can include a larger Hopper bird feeder as well.
Smaller bird feeders will generally have smaller perches and so will deter big birds like pigeons and doves from feeding and driving away smaller birds. This will also cut down on the amount and size of bird droppings.
You may also want to use one or more hummingbird feeders. Hummingbird feeders are relatively small and so are a great size for city balconies. In addition, many city dwellers have had success drawing hummingbirds to their balconies during the spring. The added feature is that nectar is a no-mess feed, unlike many seeds and live feed.
7. Select the Best Bird Feeders for Your Balcony
To select the best types of feeders for your balcony, use the information you have collected about the birds most likely to visit, what they like to eat, and their size and behaviors.
The best bird feed and feeders to attract birds to a city balcony should also minimize spillage and keep the balcony as clean as possible. You don’t want seeds, fruit, and mealworms spilling out all over your balcony. You won’t have a hose to wash things down and you may have neighboring balconies beneath yours.
8. Respect Neighbors When Mounting Bird Feeders
As for where to place the feeder and how to mount it, if your balcony has a railing and there are no neighbors below, then you can buy a feeder designed specifically for this kind of mounting.
If there are balconies below yours, I suggest hanging your bird feeder away from the edge of your balcony so that any spillage falls onto your balcony and not the balcony below.
If you have a window that overlooks your balcony, you can also use a suction cup bird feeder for windows.
Best Bird Feeders – An Example of Bird Feeders for a Balcony in New York City
Considering all of the factors you should consider when selecting the best bird feeders, I thought an example would help demonstrate the selection process when incorporating a variety of feeders.
Let’s say your balcony is on the 12th floor of a New York City building – so about 120 feet up. At that height, you are most likely to attract birds like Mourning Doves, Juncos, Sparrows, and/or Finches to your balcony. You could try incorporating all or some of the following feeders and seeds, depending on the size of your balcony:
- Large hanging hopper feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds – will attract Mourning Doves and Juncos (and most bird LOVE sunflower seeds, so even smaller birds may be drawn as well)
- A caged hanging tube feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds or a hanging nyjer feeder filled with nyjer seeds – will attract Finches
- Window feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds – will attract sparrows
- Hummingbird feeder filled with nectar – will attract hummingbirds
If your balcony is on the 5th floor, for example, you may also want to try attracting songbirds during migration months. Consider a tube feeder with shelled black-oiled sunflower seeds. Again, this may draw additional birds as well.
The number of feeders you want to incorporate will also be determined by the size of your balcony so you may have to pick and choose the feeders you want to use.
9. Use Smaller Sized Water Sources for Balcony Birds
Birds that visit your balcony bird habitat will also appreciate a water source. Since you are limited in space, and the last thing you want is a big bird fountain that will tip over and spill water all over your balcony, consider getting a little bird fountain or a shallow bowl that birds can bathe and drink from.
If space allows, you can use both a fountain and a bowl. If you get a bird fountain, you can also place little rocks on one side of the fountain so birds can also perch before they have a dip.
Birds are attracted to the sound of moving water so a fountain or a device that creates the splashing sound of water movement is an excellent way to attract birds to a city balcony.
10. Select a Mix of Native Plants for Containers
To attract birds to a city balcony, you should aim to provide a mix of native plants that produce both seeds and berries and that are suited to your area. These will provide a variety of nutritional food sources for birds. Also, remember that for a balcony you will be container gardening or hanging plants in pots.
The best way to figure out which native plants for your balcony are best for your geographic location is to consult with your local nursery, or – and this is what I recommend – to simply start by using the Audubon Native Plants Database which is a lot of fun to use and is free!
Here is a handy step-by-step Audubon Native Plants Database Guide. It will simplify the process and make it enjoyable and beneficial to learn about the best plants for your location before you go to the garden center or order them online.
Best Native Plants – An Example of bird-loving native plants for a City Balcony in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles?
Here are some quick examples of the types of plants that you can use for a bird habitat on balconies in major cities across the United States. Again, remember that you will select smaller varieties and/or display your plants in containers or hanging pots instead of planting bushes and shrubs on your balcony!
New York City: Black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, goldenrod, and New England aster should work well. For berries, consider potted serviceberry, winterberry, and chokeberry.
Chicago: Cardinal flowers, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, and Joe-Pye weed should work well. For berries, consider potted serviceberry and winterberry.
Atlanta: Trumpet honeysuckle, black-eye Susan, Cardinal flowers, and bee balm should work well. For berries consider beautyberry and American holly.
For Denver: Rocky Mountain columbine, penstemon, blanket flower, and bee balm should work well. For berries, go with serviceberry and chokecherry.
For Seattle: Red-flowering currant, salal, Oregon grape, and sword fern should work well. For berry-producing plants consider huckleberry, elderberry, and snowberry.
For Los Angeles: California lilac, hummingbird sage, penstemon, and California fuchsia are good choices. Consider toyon and holly leaf cherry for your berry plants.
11. Eliminate Distractions that Hide Food and Water
If you want to attract birds to a city balcony, do not include the following items:
- Bright colorful objects that move such as spinners
- Wind chimes and other noisy equipment
- Radios and TVs (yes, some people watch TV on their city balconies!)
- Lots of clutter from bicycles, barbecue grills, and anything else that really belongs in a building storage unit
- Anything that hides feeders and water sources
Also, the more time you spend on the balcony creating movement and noise, the less likely it is that birds will visit.
12. Keep Your Balcony Clean
It’s a lot more challenging to keep a balcony clean than a city yard. Unlike a backyard garden where you can hose down the grassy area, deck, or patio beneath bird feeders, you cannot do that with a balcony.
However, there are things you can do to cut down on the mess from visiting birds and bird feeders:
- Use a shelled birdseed to avoid shells falling onto your balcony. Shelled birdseed includes hulled sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, and “no-mess seed” products.
- Keep the number of bird feeders to a minimum.
- Use feeders with trays to catch falling seeds.
- Place a mat beneath each feeder to catch bird poop and spillage.
- You can also just use hummingbird feeders since nectar is not as messy as seeds are.
- Consider covering all or the majority of your balcony with vinyl flooring.
- If you want to keep larger birds, with their larger droppings, away, you can use feeders that have small perches, and also fill the feeders with foods that smaller birds love like nyjer seeds and sunflower seeds.
Why It is Important to Regularly Clean Bird Poop and Seed off Your Balcony
It’s important to regularly clean any bird habitat area but if you build a bird sanctuary on a city balcony, it is even more important to be diligent about this. You should thoroughly clean your balcony every 2 weeks. Else the amount of spillage will be much more difficult to clean and may even present a health hazard for the birds as well as for you.
In fact, if you let things get out of hand by not regularly cleaning your city balcony, you can attract rodents (if your balcony is relatively low) and bird mites (that may also make their way into your apartment!) The bird droppings will accumulate and be hard to remove.
For how to clean your city balcony, there are tons of websites and forums with suggestions on how best to do this. It can get complicated because it depends on what your balcony is made of: cement, metal, or wood. It also depends on if there are balconies below you. I found a solution I really like and added additional critical steps: See my “How to Clean Birds Poop off a City Balcony 10-Step Solution“.
13. Prevent Balcony Birds from Flying into Windows
Many city birds are injured or killed when they fly into buildings with windows. When window glass reflects nature and the sky, birds often think the reflections are real. That is, they perceive glass reflections as open passageways and attempt to fly into windows. Birds may also mistake reflections of themselves as rival birds and fly into windows to defend their territory.
The topic of preventing birds from flying into windows is a huge issue when birds are migrating since they are drawn to the artificial lights of large city buildings. However, this is also an issue for birds in city and suburban yards, as well as city balconies. Wherever there are window reflections, there will be bird collisions with windows. But there are things we can do to limit bird collisions.
To prevent birds from flying into windows from your balcony, there are many methods you can use to cut down on reflections and allow the birds to recognize glass panes as barriers. For example, you can apply decals or special paint to your windows, or you can hang blinds or curtains.
Final Words On How to Attract Birds to a City Balcony
If you live in the city and are fortunate enough to have a balcony, creating a small balcony bird sanctuary will provide you with hours of enjoyment. It will also help you wind down from the stresses of city living.
As long as your building does not prohibit you from drawing birds to your balcony, I encourage you to start! Just keep in mind that though it is easy to create the conditions that will attract birds to a city balcony, it may take a while for birds to discover your balcony. A city is a big place so give it time and be patient. Imagine what a city looks like to a bird – there are tons of places to explore.
If your balcony if located near a city park or other bird-loving features like a lake, river, or pond, then both resident and migrating birds are more likely to quickly discover your balcony. For resident birds, there will already be an abundance of them in your area. For migrating birds, they will be looking for food and water sources to nourish and hydrate them for their continuing journey.
As the birds in your city neighborhood discover your tiny birding hotspot, you can start to expand with additional feeders and seed types, as well as native plants. Soon you will be an expert city balcony birder, perhaps even inspiring your neighbors to follow suit. Happy city birding!