With their bright, colorful plumage, the sweet melody of their song, and the simple joy they bring just watching them hop about the place, birds can make truly wonderful visitors to your garden.
Yet personal enjoyment isn’t the only reason why you might want to start looking at ways to make your backyard bird friendly.
In doing so, you could well be saving their lives.
According to a new report from researchers at leading US conservation group, The Audubon Society, some two-thirds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction due to changes in the climate.
In many cases, this process has already begun, and has been ongoing for some time. A study by Cornell University found that one in four birds (around three billion) have disappeared from the United States and Canada since the 1970s.
With the United Nations suggesting that as many as one million plant and animal species are threatened by a growing biodiversity crisis, the dwindling bird population may just be a small part of a larger issue, but at least it’s a part we can all do something about by making our backyards a safe haven for our feathered friends.
Whether you want to do your bit for the environment and animal conservation, or whether you simply enjoy the enchanted beauty these creatures can bring to your outdoor space, we’ll show you 19 different ways that you can make your yard as bird-friendly as possible.
How to Attract Birds to Your Garden
Birds are more likely to flock to your garden if you provide them with enough food, shelter, and places to nest.
In that sense, they’re no different from us, or even from any other animal species. Our basic survival needs are pretty much the same, it’s just that the ways we help them meet these needs are going to depend on the kind of birds we hope to attract.
Attracting Birds With Food
While species like bluebirds love sunflower seeds, others prefer different types of food altogether, so it’s good to offer a variety to attract a diverse array of birds to your backyard.
You don’t need anyone to tell you that birds love seeds, but it does pay to know which kind of seeds attract which kind of birds.
Bluetits and greenfinches, for example, simply can’t get enough of sunflower seeds, while goldfinches are more likely to thank you for supplying them with yummy nyjer seeds.
As we’ll discuss later in this guide, changing up the type of food depending on the seasons will prove beneficial in attracting birds to your garden all year long. In the winter, high-protein foods like mealworms and suet balls are likely to go down well, while seeds and fruits make better meals in the warmer months.
Beware of Bugs
At this point, we should warn you that if you already have a bug hotel in your garden or if you’re planning some other means of protecting the diverse array of insects that may be crawling around your garden, then attracting birds as well may prove problematic.
American Robins love nothing more than devouring a delicious worm, but they’re just as happy to eat up any and all insects they may find on the ground while looking for their favorite food.
While the Robins are busy doing that, swallows, swifts, some varieties of warblers and all manner of nighthawks and flycatchers will lap up any flying insects, while blackbirds, bluebirds, wren, and crows will feed on just about any crawling bugs and grubs they happen to come across.
Some gardeners will use this to their advantage and actively encourage bugs to their garden for the birds to feed on but, again, if you don’t like the idea of insects being used as food, this might not be such a smart idea.
Source Your Food From Reputable Suppliers
Keep in mind that not all bird food is created equal, so to be sure that you’re providing your feathery garden visitors with the right energy and nutrients, look for reputable brands like Wagner’s or, where possible, make your own bird food from everyday pantry essentials like bread, dried fruits, and rolled oats.
Providing Birds with Safety and Shelter
The other key thing you’ll need if you’re going to make your backyard bird friendly is to provide those beautiful creatures with places to nest and protect themselves from would-be predators.
Later in our guide, we’ll discuss some of the best tools, materials, and techniques you can use to provide appropriate shelter, but for now, there’s a couple of important things to keep in mind:
Place Nests and Bird Boxes Out of Your Pet’s Reach
If you’re inviting birds into your garden then the last thing you want is for them to be scared off by your cat or other domestic animals.
Think carefully about where you’re going to position shelter and nesting sites so that they’re not only out of reach of predators, but that they provide a solid vantage point so that birds can be on the lookout for any dangers.
One of the best ways to keep birds safe is to position shelters in well-hidden spots.
If you’ve created a forest garden, for example, then you’ll have lots of wild, natural spots that are perfect for building nests out of the way of predators.
19 Ways to Make Your Backyard Bird Friendly
Birdhouses and fat balls are just two of the many ways you can attract birds to your garden space.
1. Explore and Recreate Your Local Natural Areas
Bird Boxes, tables and other artificial tools all certainly have their place in a bird friendly garden, and we’ll get to each of them in due course.
Yet the more you can do to recreate a wholly natural environment, the more likely birds are to stick around.
Take some time to explore your local area. Look at what types of plants are growing in the area.
What kind of trees are there?
What about shrubbery?
How is the plant growth layered?
Keep in mind that birds tend to use all the different layers of plants for different purposes. A thrush, for example, may forage for food among the discarded leaves at the foot of a tree, move up into the shrubs to build a nest, and then scale the highest heights of the trees for a good old sing-song.
When designing your bird garden then, you’ll want to replicate these layers as closely as possible so that these thrushes and other birds will have an environment that resembles their natural habitat.
Most gardening experts will tell you to place large, forest-interior trees around the edges of your property then work inwards, starting with understory trees, large shrubs, then smaller shrubs, then finally grasses and flowers.
2. Trim Back Your Lawn
Large patches of immaculately cut lawn aren’t exactly a common sight out in the wild. So, although it may look pretty, you may want to cut back on some of your lawn to create a more natural habitat.
Leave that weed eater in the shed for a season and scatter some seeds to create a natural wildflower meadow or plant shrubs and bushes around the edges so that birds have a place to shelter, nest, and feed.
3. Choose Plants That Provide Food for Birds
Growing plants that produce berries is a great way to provide visiting birds with a natural food source.
Besides simply making your backyard look attractive, plants and flowers can serve a much more practical purpose.
Choose the right ones, and you’ll find that they can serve as a valuable food source for birds.
Buy some winterberry holly seeds, or grow some blueberries, Saskatoon berries or junipers and winter birds such as sparrows and waxwings will have plenty to keep their tummies full.
Planting Pacific Dogwood is likely to be appreciated by visiting warblers, and thrushes, as will raspberries, elderberries and certain types of grapes.
Don’t forget about those seeds. Native sunflowers produce seeds that are adored by finches and sparrows, while the nectar of certain flowers like honeysuckle is favored by the beautiful hummingbird.
4. Prepare For All Seasons
Birds visiting your garden in the winter months will have different food and shelter needs than those visiting in spring and summer.
As your garden transitions from summer into fall, and then from fall into winter, you’ll find that different types of birds begin appearing in your garden and that each new season’s visitors will have their own unique needs.
Winter and fall birds are going to require high-fat foods like suet balls and mealworms to help keep them warm, while spring and summer visitors will thank you for seeds, nuts and sweet fruits that give them all the energy they need for chick-rearing.
If you’re unsure which birds are likely to visit during the different seasons and what you should be feeding them, the charity Mass Audubon has some useful information.
5. Avoid Pesticide Use
Pesticides may have their uses but they can prove deadly to birds.
It’s not uncommon for some species to mistake pesticide granules for gravel or seeds and pick them up. Even if you apply them in an area of your garden that is separate from the areas you’re hoping to attract birds to, wind and other elements can still end up spreading harmful pesticides to those areas.
Be mindful too that birds of prey such as owls and hawks have been known to die from eating rats who have been poisoned.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a list of organic and other approved substances that may be safe to use, while alternatives such as Natural Alternative Lawn Fertilizer with Corn Gluten typically prove to be a more bird-friendly option for lawn care.
6. Choose the Right Bird Feeder
Different types of bird feeder will attract different types of birds, so it’s important to choose carefully
There’s a reason that there are so many different types of bird feeders available, and it isn’t just so that the manufacturers can make more money!
The various types are designed to suit the habits of different birds. Some prefer to eat from the ground and flat surfaces whereas others prefer hanging feeders or even suet fat balls.
Install a traditional table-style feeder such as the popular Woodlink 3 in 1 Platform Bird Feeder and you’ll make your backyard friendly for birds like the House Finch or Native Sparrow.
Opt for a hanging feeder like the highly-rated Gray Bunny Classic Tube Feeder and you’ll find more Chipping Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, chickadees, and goldfinches.
For larger birds like jays, starlings, and woodpeckers, a traditional suet feeder like this popular model from Kettle Moraine is going to be more appropriate.
Where possible, positioning different types of feeders in various locations throughout your garden will help you attract a greater variety of birds.
7. Keep Bird Feeders Safe and Clean
Do your best to keep your bird feeder clean by wiping down moldy old food that could cause visiting birds to become ill.
You can buy specialist bird feed cleaner that helps to keep your feeders safe and hygienic and prevents regular household detergents from contaminating your feed.
You can have all the best intentions in the world for feeding your feathered friends, but if your area has a sizeable squirrel population, then those creatures are going to try their best to get at your bird food.
8: Leave Dead Trees and Branches
Dead trees make great sheltering and nesting sites for a variety of birds
Whether you’re going all out with a complete forest garden or simply have a few trees around the edge of your property, consider leaving dead trunks and fallen branches where they lie.
Not only are they likely to be absorbed into the ground to create richer soil for your entire backyard ecosystem, but branches, twigs, and leaves make great nesting material for a wide variety of birds.
Meanwhile, species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, bluebirds, American Kestrels and Tree Swallows are known to make themselves at home among the cavities in the softwood. Woodpeckers, in particular, tend to use the deadwood for drumming, which can be quite a special sight to see.
9: Use Other Natural and Raw Materials to Build Your Garden
Thanks to the growing trend in adopting a Back to Eden approach to gardening, more and more of us are eschewing artificial garden features and using raw, natural materials to create their outdoor space.
The benefits of this can’t be understated.
Going Back to Eden stops weeds shooting up, supports plant and vegetable growth and even minimizes the amount of work you have to do in maintaining your garden.
Perhaps more importantly than all that, however, is the fact that using raw materials to build up your garden helps you to closely replicate the kind of natural environment birds would find out in the wild.
Done right, and your winged visitors will barely be able to tell the difference between your backyard and a nearby park or field, meaning they’re much more likely to stop by.
Of course, it also goes without saying that wood chips, bark, compost may be welcomed by those birds who want to make a nest in your garden.
10. Help Birds Avoid Window Collisions
An often overlooked component of a bird-friendly backyard is preventing head-on collisions with your windows.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can deploy to do this.
For example, if you have a window in your home that presents a clear view through the house to another window on the opposite side of the house, then birds can mistake this as a flight path and attempt to go through it.
You can easily prevent this by closing doors, lowering blinds or finding some other way to break up the view.
Alternatively, you might want to place sun ornaments or similar objects in your window as this signals to birds that there’s an obstacle in the way and they can’t just fly straight through.
Speaking of placing objects in your windows, some homeowners have found that placing a simple silhouette sticker of a hawk or other anti-collision decals can prove incredibly effective in preventing bird strikes.
11. Add a Bird Bath or Water Feature
Bird baths are a welcome addition to any bird-friendly backyard as many birds will drink and bathe in the same water source
We’ve focused a lot on all the different ways that you can feed your garden visitors, but don’t forget to supply them with a water source too.
Though most birds get much of their hydration from food, they’ll still thank you for installing a birdbath or other water features that they can use for both drinking and bathing.
Summer birds, in particular, will use a birdbath for keeping cool on hot days, while your winter visitors will be grateful for fresh water when their usual natural water supplies become frozen over or blocked up with snow.
Bird Baths that sit on pedestals are ideal for keeping birds out of harm’s way if cats visit your garden, but if you don’t want to spend the money on such a feature, then carving out shallows pools and puddles in your backyard will also prove effective.
To make your water supply as bird-friendly as possible, make sure that it is no more than three inches deep so that smaller birds can comfortably bathe in it. You’ll also want to give it a good clean every few days in the summer months and replace the water as bird droppings and algae can build up in neglected waters and cause birds to become ill.
Using a rain barrel with an overflow feature that gently drips into your birdbath is a great way of providing a continuing source of fresh water.
12. Create a Wildlife Pond
If you’re trying to create a backyard that is as natural as possible, then sticking an ornamental bird bath in there will look out of place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a valuable water source.
By building a wildlife pond in your back garden, you not only provide plenty of water for birds but also present some species with potential nesting sites among the reeds and bushes surrounding your pond.
Be mindful that your pond is likely to attract other native mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, so be prepared to make friends with many more creatures besides the birds.
13. Install Appropriate-Sized Bird Houses or Nesting Boxes
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Prefer to build your own bird box rather than buy one from the store? This video shows you exactly how it’s done.
We all know that birdhouses and nesting boxes make a wonderful addition to any bird-friendly space, but what you might not know is that these useful features aren’t designed to be one-size-fits-all.
While larger birds will naturally be drawn to boxes with a larger opening, there’s a good reason for using boxes with smaller openings too.
For example, bluebirds and sparrows have similar nesting habits so they are naturally drawn to the same type of environment. The House sparrow, however, is an aggressive creature and will think nothing of attacking both young and adult bluebirds, even going so far as to destroy their eggs.
As such, if you’re hoping to attract bluebirds then you’ll have to provide sparrow-resistant bird boxes and take steps to control any visiting population of house sparrows.
The Michigan Bluebird Society has some good advice on how to do that, but for now, our advice is simple:
Determine what type of birds you want to attract to your backyard and install a nesting box that is appropriate for them.
14. Leave Leaf Litter for the Birds
Instead of disposing of fallen leaves or using them for your compost, leave them for the birds to make nests with
When fall comes, it’s tempting to rake up all of those fallen leaves and either leave them on the curb to be collected or add them to your compost heap.
Normally, that would be a good idea, but if you want to make your backyard as bird-friendly as possible, then you’ll be better off keeping those leaves for the birds.
Rake them under hedges or trees and they’ll attract earthworms and other insects which provide a valuable source for robins, thrushes and other species.
You may also find that some birds use those leaves as nest-building material.
15. Don’t Deadhead Your Plants
Speaking of leaving things where they are, when flowering plants bloom, your first instinct will be to go out and ‘dead-head’ them.
Resist the urge to do that this season and the left-over seedheads will provide sufficient food during the fall and winter seasons.
16. Provide Conifers for Shelter
No matter how many other plant varieties you’re planning on including in your garden, aim to plant at least one conifer bush.
Evergreen conifers provide excellent shelter during storms and extreme winter weather and many birds prefer them for nesting.
17. Make Your Own Bird Feed Using Pantry Essentials
You can make your very own fat balls and bird cakes using items you may already have in your kitchen.
Though the bird food you buy at the store has been purposefully made to be both nutritious and appealing for your feathered friends, you may find that many of the leftover food scraps you were otherwise going throw away make an excellent meal for them.
Cooked potatoes, unsmoked bacon, pastry scraps, and even cheese can be scattered on bird tables or placed into feeders to provide a tasty treat for visiting birds.
Alternatively, if you have some suet or lard in your pantry, then you could mix it with raisins, sultanas, rolled oats and other goodies to make your fat balls.
Simply cook them together in a saucepan, empty the contents into old yogurt pots and, after leaving them to set in the refrigerator, hang them up outside using a piece of string or ribbon.
The following video from KeefCooks shows you exactly how it’s done.
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18. Remove Non-Native Plants from Your Backyard
If you really want to attract birds to your garden then native plants are the way to go.
Invasive, non-native plants just don’t provide the right kind of nutritious food that birds need to survive. So, to be on the safe side, make sure that you only plant native plants and uproot any non-native species you might already have growing in your garden.
Audubon has a full Native Plants database that enables you to find out which native plants are best suited to your area.
19. Watch, Learn and Change
Few things are more relaxing in life than sitting by and watching beautiful birds flutter in and out of your garden.
Yet as tempting as it may be to just sit back and enjoy the view, you might want to pay attention to what those birds are actually doing when they visit your backyard.
Look at which parts of the environment they’re attracted to, and which parts they simply ignore. Over time, you’ll get a good idea about what’s working and what isn’t, and can make adjustments accordingly.
It might be that simply moving a nesting box from one location to another attracts more birds, or that swapping the type of seed you leave out encourages birds to make your home their home.
Frequently Asked Questions About Making Your Backyard Bird Friendly
How Can I Stop Squirrels From Eating My Birdseed?
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Need an effective way to keep squirrels away from your bird feeders? Birds Unlimited of Gainesville, Florida have a few suggestions in this video.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to keep squirrels out is to fill your feeder with nyger seeds or specialist bird seed mixes that squirrels don’t especially like.
Sure, they’ll still eat them if they’re starving, but otherwise, they’re likely to leave such foods alone.
Some gardeners recommend adding hot spices such as capsicum into your bird feed as this makes eating the birdseed uncomfortable and unpleasant for mammals but doesn’t seem to affect birds at all, but if you don’t want to actually do any harm to the squirrels then there are other options.
For one, you could set up a dedicated squirrel feeder in a different part of your backyard to distract them. Alternatively, you could invest in a dedicated squirrel-proof feeder such as the best-selling Squirrel Buster Plus Squirrel-proof Bird Feeder w/Cardinal Ring.
How Can I Attract Birds to My Backyard if I Have a Cat?
Although it may seem as though owning a cat just isn’t compatible with creating a bird-friendly backyard, it is possible to do both.
If you haven’t yet adopted a cat, you should look for an indoor. Naturally, this is the easiest way to keep them away from birds.
If you do decide to let them outdoors, you should do this at set times and keep them supervised. Alternatively, you could build your own ‘cat patio’ or ‘catio,’ which give your furry friend plenty of space to roam around in while still keeping them contained.
Alternatively, you could buy an outdoor play tent for your cat like the highly acclaimed Outdoor Jack Cat Enclosure.
Keeping Outdoor Cats Away From Birds
Of course, if you already have an outdoor cat, then it’s going to be difficult (though not impossible) to transform them into an indoor pet so you’ll need to take a different approach.
Make sure your cat’s claws are well-trimmed to make climbing and catching wild birds much more challenging.
Have them wear a collar bell that can alert birds to your cat approaching, giving them enough time to fly out of harm’s way.
Consider planting sharp, thorny bushes that will be off-putting to cats but provide plenty of tasty berries for birds.
Finally, be mindful of where you position your bird feeders. Avoid using ground feeders, place hanging feeders in spots that are difficult for cats to reach and you’ll create a safe, welcoming environment that your native birds will soon love to call home.
Birds like this beautiful male bullfinch can be attracted to your backyard by sunflower and other seeds, making for a welcome visitor to your garden space.