Bird lovers can easily create a bird sanctuary in their backyards. It is not expensive, it is easy, and it is fun! You may have many questions about how to start, including the kinds of food, plants, and other materials you should use.
To attract birds to your yard, provide a variety of food from native plants and feeders, water sources for bathing and drinking, bird houses and nesting materials, natural landscaping, and bird-friendly windows. Place feeders near a shelter and in view. Reduce pesticides and noise.
This article will provide you with the knowledge you need to create a backyard that birds love to visit. There is a lot to learn so let’s get going.
1. Find the Best Native Plants for Your Location
If we all lived in the same location, with the same sized yard that faced the same direction and had the same soil and sunlight, I could easily start recommending the best trees, plants, shrubs, and grasses for you.
However, selecting the best native plants for your specific yard is pretty simple. You can use the Audubon Native Plants database to find the best native plants for your zip code and see which birds they may attract, or just ask your local gardening center.
Here is a handy step-by-step Audubon Native Plants Database guide.
2. Include Berry-Producing Native Plants
You should aim for incorporating native plants that produce berries. Native shrubs and trees that provide berries will nourish birds during summer, fall, and winter.
Depending on your location, you can consider berry-producing plants like American Holly (I have 12 of these in my North Carolina yard,) Junipers, California Buckthorns, Mountain Ash (I had one of these when I lived in Boulder,) and Blueberry bushes.
Serviceberries will work for most of the continental U.S. except for the deep south. They produce dark crimson berries in the summer and flowers in the spring and are loved by a large variety of garden birds.
3. Include Seed-Producing Native Plants
Plan to use native plants that produce seeds as well. Native flowers will provide birds with seeds and also attract insects. They will also give your yard a burst of color.
Depending on location, you can consider seed-producing plants like Black-eyed Susan, Lupines, Purple Coneflowers, Sunflowers (a friend in Poland has acres of these in her backyard and they are absolutely beautiful,) Asters, and so many more!
Go colorful, and have fun!
4. Remove Invasive Plants From Your Yard
Invasive plants are non-native plants that can compete with native species. By spreading rapidly and aggressively, they can crowd out native plants that birds and insects love. Therefore, you should do your best to remove them from a bird-friendly yard.
In case you are wondering what invasive plants are, here are a few examples:
- Japanese Knotweed – This eastern Asian plant is an invasive species in many regions across the globe. It has an extensive root system that damages buildings and pavements.
- Kudzu-Yuk, I know this one very well. It grows down in Georgia where a relative used to live. This stuff can grow up to a foot every day (!) and can kill trees. It’s horrible.
- Purple Loosestrife – This herb is from Europe and Asia and was introduced to North America in the 1800s as a lovely ornamental plant. Now it has taken over wetland habitats.
- Garlic Mustard – This saddens me as I do love anything having to do with garlic (especially on a pizza) but alas it has become a major invasive species growing in forests, roadsides, and other types of habitats.
5. Reduce Your Lawn Area
A beautifully manicured lawn looks great, but reducing the size of a lawn is an opportunity to create a more bird-friendly environment. By reducing your lawn area you can provide more native plants and so more food for birds.
In addition, the amount of water, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used to maintain a lawn is very costly.
By reducing the size of your lawn, you can also cut back on the chemicals that are used, protect yourself as well as birds, and reduce landscaping and water bills.
6. Minimize Pesticides
Minimizing the use of pesticides in a bird-friendly yard is a critical component of building a backyard bird habitat. We often think of pesticides as nasty chemicals that kill pests we want to get rid of, but they can also harm birds!
You may not realize that even small amounts of pesticides can be harmful to birds, causing neurological damage, weakened immune systems, and reproductive issues. Exposure to pesticides can come via direct contact or from contaminated food, water, or air.
Pesticides can also contaminate water that birds drink from, and kill insects and plants that birds eat. Please try using more eco-friendly alternatives.
7. Build a Brush Pile in a Corner of Your Yard
A brush pile is just a stack of branches, twigs, and other natural materials that can give birds a safe, protected space for nesting and resting.
Brush piles are easy to create:
- Choose a location for the brush pile -Select a protected area that receives a mix of sunlight and shade, and that is away from human activity.
- Collect natural materials for the brush pile – Collect branches, twigs, leaves, and grasses. Use different shapes and sizes of branches.
- Build the brush pile – Create a foundation using large branches. Place smaller branches, twigs, and leaves on top. Try to create a loose structure. Leave some open spaces since these are perfect sheltering spots for birds, small animals, and insects.
8. Keep Some Dead Trees in Your Yard
The cavities in dead trees are perfect nooks for birds to raise their chicks. They are also attractive to the insects that birds eat, and provide shelter from inclement weather.
Now, that being said, there are some risks here. One risk is that the tree may fall or drop its branches. I have a dead tree close to my deck that the woodpeckers love but I need to consider removing it at some point.
Another risk is that as woodpeckers create nesting cavities in the dead wood, this further weakens the tree which makes it more likely that the tree will drop branches or fall. It is important to regularly have the dead branches removed, and have the risk assessed.
9. Provide a Variety of Foods for Feeders
The main types of seeds you can offer birds via feeders are sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, mixed seeds, and nyjer. You can also offer fruit and live feed like mealworms.
When it comes to bird feeder foods, I recommend using a variety of food for the following reasons:
- Like people, different birds prefer different types of food.
- The shape of a bird’s bill will limit the kinds of food it can eat.
- A wider variety of food will attract a wider variety of birds.
If you offer a wide range of foods, you will attract more birds. Think of it as a food court for birds – a bit of Korean, Italian, and Chinese, as well as a variety of tables to eat at!
However, if you just want to use one type of food, I suggest black-oiled sunflower seed. The main thing to remember is to make sure you purchase a high-quality bird seed. Many cheap bird seeds on the market have a lot of bits that birds do not like.
10. Provide a Variety of Feeders
As just mentioned, different bird species enjoy different types of food and have differently shaped beaks which impact the foods they can easily consume. If you provide a variety of foods to draw more birds, you will need to use feeders that are designed to dispense specific types of feed.
The main types of bird feeders are tube, platform and ground, hopper, suet, and nectar feeders. Within those categories, there are different styles of feeders as well. There is a lot to choose from!
All feeders have their pros and cons so you need to choose what works best for you and for the birds you want to attract to your yard.
11. Focus on Attracting Resident and Migrating Birds
The feeders and feed you select for your yard will also depend on the bird species most likely to visit your yard, the birds you would like to try attracting to your yard, and the feed they enjoy.
You can identify the resident birds that are most likely to visit your yard via eBird, Merlin Bird ID’s “Likely Birds Today” feature (for iOS, and Android,) or call the Audubon society in your area.
You can also try to attract migratory birds during fall and spring migration. BirdCast has amazing information about migratory birds that you can use for this purpose.
12. Space Plants and Feeders Throughout Your Yard
Try spacing feeders and native plants out across your lot. Think of them like little bird restaurants located along a square or boulevard.
Birds don’t always visit every corner of a yard and by spacing feeding areas out, they are sure to discover at least one of them.
This will also allow you to create different viewing areas in your backyard, where you can place seating to enjoy the sight of birds feeding.
13. Place Feeders Near Shelter and In Plain Sight
You may have noticed that as birds feed they often stop and look around. They are looking for predators. When a bird spots a predator, it will attempt to retreat to a good hiding spot.
To help birds feel safe, place feeders close to shrubs and bushes where birds can hide from predators like cats and hawks.
Place feeders where you can also see them from inside your home, or from a deck or patio, so you can enjoy watching them. If you can easily see your feeders, you will also be able to see when they need to be refilled and cleaned.
14. Place Hummingbird Feeders in the Shade
Hang the feeder in a shaded location so that the nectar does not spoil too quickly. You can also plant brightly colored, tubular flowers near the feeders.
Consider salvia, fuchsia and bee-balm. These will attract hummingbirds and also provide them with a natural food source.
Hummingbirds are attracted to bright bold colors – they especially love red! Place bright red ribbons near your feeder to attract more hummingbirds.
15. Provide Water Sources for Bathing and Drinking
Providing clean, fresh water for birds will draw more birds than providing food sources. All birds require fresh water for drinking and bathing and to keep feathers clean so they can fluff them up to retain heat.
Water is especially important for birds in the winter when natural water sources are frozen. To keep yours from freezing you can get a heated bird bath, use a little heater, or use a small fountain. Just make sure to clean and refresh the water every few days.
Birds love the sound of splashing water so consider putting in an insert that sprays the water, or use a solar-powered fountain. Birds also like a shallow area to bathe, drink, and perch so consider placing small stones or a brick inside of a bird bath.
16. Add Bird Houses for Nesting
Throughout the years, in the many places I have called home across the United States, I have enjoyed incorporating birdhouses into my backyard habitats. There are many to choose from, depending on the sizes and behaviors of birds.
I know this seems incredibly obvious but if you are a novice birder it might not be: The sizes of birdhouses, and the size of the holes required to access them, are different according to the sizes of the birds they are designed for.
Small birds like Chickadee and Wren need an entrance hole of approximately 1 1/8″, while medium-sized birds like Bluebirds and Titmice require a bigger hole of approximately 1.5″. Large birds like Woodpeckers and Flickers need a hold of at least 2.5″.
17. Provide Nesting Materials
Providing nesting materials for birds is a great way to attract more birds to your yard. You can place them in a wire basket or mesh container that is located in a designated area in your yard.
Nesting materials are anything a bird can use to build its nest. This can include natural materials like grass, leaves, and twigs. Yarn or string is perfect as well.
You can collect natural nesting materials from your property or a natural area that is close by. You can also opt to purchase them from a garden center or pet store. Just avoid plastic or synthetic materials since these can become entangled in a bird’s feet or beak!
18. Place Birdhouses in a Safe Location
The best place to locate a birdhouse is in a safe and open area that is far enough away from potential predators, and foot traffic from roads and walkways. If you want to attract even more birds, you can add comfy nesting materials like twigs, grasses, and even feathers.
You can opt to place birdhouses in a sheltered location like under the eaves of a house, in a protected corner of your yard, or even in a tree that has good foliage cover.
When you place the birdhouse, make sure you don’t obscure the entrance with an overhanging branch or some other obstacle. Keep it out of direct sunlight as well so that the birdhouse doesn’t become a little sauna – that would be quite dangerous.
Finally, try to place it in an area where you can easily access it so that you can clean it. That is, don’t climb up a ladder to place it way up in a tree just because it looks cute up there.
19. Provide Nesting Boxes
Nesting boxes are different than birdhouses though many people often confuse them. Birds can raise their nests and chicks in both birdhouses and nesting boxes but nesting boxes are more functional than decorative.
Instead of aesthetics, the emphasis is on providing a safe and secure nesting site for birds. They can have a simple entrance hole or an entrance that is more complex since it is designed to deter predators. The inside is typically lined with straw or grass and may also have a removable bottom so that it can be easily cleaned.
The best nesting boxes will feature drainage holes on the bottom, as well as ventilation holes located at the top.
Be aware that nesting boxes with perches will attract house sparrows who will bully other birds that use the nesting box. Other critters may also try to dominate the box.
20. Provide Roosting Boxes
A roosting box is a bird box that is designed to provide shelter to birds during the cold winter months. Like nesting boxes, they are lined with natural materials like straw and grass which makes for a warm and cozy environment.
When several birds occupy a roosting box, they can cuddle – in addition to being super cute, this allows them to conserve body heat and increase their chances of surviving the winter.
Roosting boxes are also excellent structures for birds to use when they are trying to escape from predators. Remember that in the winter food is more scarce and predators are more persistent in their hunting efforts.
Roof boxes should be placed in a location that is sheltered from the wind. To provide additional insulation or cover, you can use a burlap sap or other natural materials.
21. Reduce Noise and Disturbance
Birds are highly sensitive creatures, easily stressed-out by noise and human activity. If we want a bird-friendly yard, it’s important to create a peaceful environment for them.
Loud noises and activities can negatively impact their nesting, feeding, and breeding behaviors, as well as their “mental health”. Excessive noise may even cause them to flee an area.
Since you have to share your yard with birds, try keeping noise and activity down in the early morning, towards the late afternoon, and evening since this is when birds are most active. Don’t mow the lawn, use power tools, or play sports during these times.
22. Use Bird-Friendly Windows
Reflections from glass windows can be deadly for birds. Birds often fly into windows when they mistake their own reflections as rival birds and try to attack them.
Birds can also mistake the reflections of nature as real open passageways, and attempt to fly into them.
There are many ways to prevent birds from flying into windows, such as using interior blinds and decals and painting window exteriors with specialty paint. There are numerous options!
23. Monitor Successes and Failures
Every yard is somewhat unique. They differ in size, the amount of shade and sun they receive, and if they are adjacent to wetlands, lakes, neighboring yards, or parking lots. For this reason, what attracts birds to one yard may not work in another yard. And what worked last year may not work this year.
Write down which types of birds are visiting your yard, the time of day they visit, what the weather is like, which feeders and/or plants they feed from, and where they linger.
Think of yourself as a scientist running an experiment, and then iterating to fine-tune your setup. Keep tweaking until the birds you want to attract regularly visit your yard. New birds may appear as well as the word gets around that your yard is the place to be!
24. Get Your Garden Certified
Getting your garden certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat really appeals to me! I like accomplishing things and then getting a little reward or validation for my efforts.
If you get certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NFW) you must meet the following requirements:
- At least 3 types of food sources such as native plants that provide seeds, nuts, fruits, or berries, and/or bird feeders that provide seeds or nectars
- At least one water source such as a birdbath, pond, or stream.
- At least two types of shelter such as trees, shrubs, or brush pile
- At least one type of habitat for birds to raise their young, such as birdhouses or nesting boxes
- Using sustainable gardening practices and avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilizers
Similarly, you can also get your property certified as an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary. Call your nearest Audubon chapter to learn more.
Here’s a cut video that features a story about a family in Atlanta that set out to have their yard designated as an official bird sanctuary by Audubon:
25. Use Color to Draw More Birds to Your Yard
Birds are very sensitive to colors and can see a much wider range of colors than humans. For example, they can see ultraviolet light, and can also perceive very small color variations that humans can’t detect.
They love colors found in nature, such as green, brown, and earthy tones, but they are also drawn to very bright colors that are not typically found in nature, such as bright reds, oranges, and yellows.
Here are some tips for using color to attract more birds to your yard:
- Plant colorful flowers
- Use colorful bird feeders and brightly colored water bowls
- Paint or decorate birdhouses with bright colors
- Add a few colorful perches near your bird feeders
- Add brightly colored ribbons or streamers
Final Words on How To Attract Birds to Your Yard
There is no doubt that you can attract a wide variety of birds to a backyard. I have had homes across the U.S. where I created bird sanctuaries in the backyard. I have even created little bird habitats on city balconies.
I think the most important thing is to be patient and make it fun. Use the right feeders, quality seeds, water sources, and plants for the birds you want to attract. Clean the feeders and areas below the feeders regularly.
Don’t feel that you have to do everything at once – you can start with one tube feeder filled with black-oiled sunflower seeds and a bird bath and see how it goes. You can then build your sanctuary slowly, adding different kinds of feeders and feed in various locations across your yard.
As you expand, be sure to add native bird-loving plants and birdhouses at a pace that fits your budget and interest.
What attracts birds to bird feeders?
Larger birds like feeders with larger perches, such as platform feeders, hopper feeders, and large tube feeders. Smaller birds like smaller tube feeders and Nyjer feeders. Birds that like to cling to feeders like mesh feeders. Birds that eat suet like suet feeders. Orioles and Hummingbirds like nectar feeders. Place the feeder so that birds can see it but positioned it so it is protected from predators. Keep the feeders clean, and provide a source of water.
What is the best bird seed to attract birds?
It depends on the type of birds you are trying to attract. Most birds are attracted to black-oiled sunflower seeds. Safflower seeds are also popular since they are less attractive to squirrels. Finches prefer Nyjer seed and Hummingbirds like nectar.
How do you attract more birds to your yard without a bird feeder?
Plant colorful native plants and berry-producing shrubs that birds love, and provide at least one fresh water source that birds can bathe and drink from. Consider a moving water source since birds are attracted to the sound of flowing water. Provide birdhouses, brush piles, roosting boxes, and/or nesting boxes for shelter and/or breeding. Cut back on pesticides.
What kinds of plants can I grow to attract birds?
Plants that produce seeds, berries, or nectar are great for attracting birds to your garden. Consider planting sunflowers, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and blueberries. Flowering trees like dogwood and redbud are also excellent selections.