Creating a backyard bird habitat is easy to do and helps the bird population too. Unlike domesticated birds, with so much of their natural habitat being torn down to make way for housing and other development, many wild birds can't always find food, shelter and water. This article will explain how to attract birds to your yard.
I used to live in a house that backed up to a ravine. There were lots of trees around and that meant plenty of birds (and other wildlife) to watch. I learned to recognize various bird calls such as the cardinal’s sharp whistle. The mourning dove’s coo would greet me in the morning and at night, owls called to each other across the ravine.
Alas, I’ve been living on a busy street for the past 14 years and rather than being surrounded by birds’ natural environment, I’ve had to create one for them.
Creating a backyard habitat for birds is easy and relatively inexpensive. I live in a town in the Midwest but whether you live on an island, in the desert or in the northern woods, there are four basic elements you need when making your yard inviting to birds.
Birds need water year round
Although people know that birds need food in the winter, they often forget that it is just as important to provide fresh water too. Your backyard bird habitat should provide water for birds during the hot and dry summer months but if you live in an area with freezing temperatures, your birdbath might be one of the few sources of water for birds.
To keep the water flowing, you might need to buy a heating element for your birdbath or fountain.Some birdbaths, such as the KozySpa have a built-in heating element. The cord runs up inside the birdbath pedestal and keeps the bowl heated.
Besides having a pedestal birdbath, consider providing a shallow bowl of water on the ground for larger birds such as mourning doves. Some low birdbaths have a heated bowl. What's nice about this type as well as the KozySpa, is that there is no heating element that is placed inside the bowl which can fall out.
Birds also need water to clean themselves. Bathing helps birds maintain their feathers. When their feathers are damp, dirt loosens and birds find it easier to preen themselves. When a bird preens itself, it's rearranging it's feathers and distributing oil from its preen gland. This helps to waterproof its feathers and creates a layer of air under the feathers that insulates them from the cold.
Here are some tips to consider when placing a birdbath in your yard to attract birds, especially during the winter:
- Don't put it under a bird feeder. You don't want seeds and bird droppings falling into the water
- Don't put it near where a cat might hide, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting bird
- Do put it near a tree so a bird can fly into it's branches for safety if necessary
- Do put it near an electrical outlet if you are using a heating element
Different feeders attract different birds
If you can provide a wide variety of food sources, you'll attract a lot of different kinds of birds. Birds will feed on seeds, grains, nuts, flower buds, insects and berries.
Planting fruit-bearing shrubs and trees not only beautifies your yard but also provides food for the birds. The feeder I have is between two over-grown bush cherries. Last year I planted three berry bushes and I fully expect to share their fruit with the local birds.
If you live in an apartment and can’t plant anything, birdseed will do the trick. You have to decide what kind of bird you want to attract because that will depend on the type of seed and feeder you get. I buy a higher-quality birdseed mix that is almost exclusively black-oil sunflower seed because I know it will attract my favorite bird, the cardinal; many other species enjoy it as well. Cheaper birdseed mixes contain white milo, cracked corn and wheat along with striped sunflower seeds. You’ll need a hopper or tube type of feeder for this type of seed or mix.
A platform feeder or tray filled with millet or corn will attract sparrows and doves.
Finches are a beautiful species of bird that are particularly fond of a tiny black seed from India and Africa called nyger (thistle). Because the seed is so small, you’ll need a thistle feeder, which has smaller holes.
If you want to attract hummingbirds, plant red flowers or make nectar available to them. A simple 1:4 sugar/water solution will do. Just combine one part sugar to four parts water, boil the solution for a couple minutes to help the sugar dissolve and slow fermentation. Allow it to cool completely before filling a hummingbird feeder.
Suet is made of beef fat and often has birdseed, berries, or peanut butter mixed in. It’s formed into blocks so you’ll need a suet feeder – a wire cage – to hold it. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and wrens like suet.
When thinking of the feeder and types of food, keep these tips in mind:
- Don't just throw seeds out on the ground. Seeds can get contaminated by dampness, mold, bacteria and lawn fertilizers.
- Do pick a spot that's convenient for you. If it's very cold or wet and the feeder is empty, you might not want to brave the elements to fill it.
- Do clean your feeder occasionally. If there's been several days of rain, let the feeder dry out before you fill it again so the seeds don't spoil. Birds will stop feeding if the seeds are bad. Or if you see ants crawling on the hummingbird feeder, rinse it out before refilling it.
Give the birds some shelter
Those same shrubs and trees you planted for food also shelter birds from bad weather and predators. Some people keep their cats indoors or declaw them to prevent them from harming birds. True confession here: I don’t believe in keeping my cat inside and yes, the great hunter has gifted us with a few dead birds (and one he brought into the house which we managed to rescue and return outside). It’s the circle of life, a fact of nature and it hasn’t deterred birds from coming to our feeder.
The National Wildlife Federation recommends at least two places for birds to find shelter. Like food, different types of shelter will attract different types of birds. For instance, prairies and marshes are both available at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in W. Alton, Mo. If the following aren’t already available, try creating these safe spaces:
- evergreens to give many bird species shelter during the winter
- dense shrubs and thickets for birds such as catbirds and Carolina wrens
- marshes and wetlands for red-winged blackbirds and black terns
- dead trees are home to many species of woodpeckers
A home to raise their young
How and where birds nest is as varied as the creatures themselves. Some nesting sites birds choose are no-brainers. Woodpeckers nest in cavities of dead trees and marsh wrens attach their nests to reeds and cattails in wetlands. Chimney swifts use their saliva as glue to build their twig nests onto a vertical wall within a chimney, barn or well. Kingfishers burrow tunnels into riverbanks where they lay their eggs.
If you want to attract to your backyard habitat the many species of birds that require a cavity for nesting, you can build a nesting box. You can find plans for the ubiquitous bluebird house at a site such as this one. Be sure to use untreated lumber such as cedar and don’t add a perch. House sparrows will sit on the perches to peck at the other birds using the nesting box.
- Don’t use insecticides and lawn chemicals – they can be harmful to birds
- Remember to clean your feeders on a regular basis, especially after heavy rain when the seeds might turn moldy and sprout
- Keep a set of binoculars nearby so you can observe the birds without getting too close and scaring them
As fields and woods continue to be cleared for urban development, birds lose their homes. You can help them by turning your backyard into a bird habitat. The added benefit is that you may also attract butterflies, chipmunks, reptiles and other small wildlife.
May is Garden for Wildlife Month so why not take steps today to create a certified backyard bird habitat!
How much do you know about creating a backyard bird habitat?
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- With prairies and wetlands being lost to development, brids are losing their natural habitats
- There are four basic elements all bird habitats require
- You don't need to provide water for birds in the summer because there are more sources available.
- Different birds need different kinds of food
- Finches like to feed from a platform feeder.
- You can make necter for hummingbirds from a solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water
- You don't need to bother cleaning bird feeders - the birds don't care and it will save you time
- Some shelters for birds include marshes, dead trees and thick shrubs
- Chimney swifts use their saliva as glue when building their nests
- You can get your backyard certified as a natural bird habitat through the National Wildlife Federation
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on October 03, 2012:
Hi Rhonda, I'm glad you found this useful. Once you start keeping a feeder filled, the birds will come to expect 'breakfast.' If my feeder is empty, the birds definitely let me know about it. Thanks for the votes!
Rhonda Humphreys from Michigan on October 03, 2012:
We have many birds in our yard and I want to start feeding them. this really gave me some great ideas on not only what type of seed to buy but also what type of feeder to put up. Can't wait to start. Voted up, useful and interesting
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on August 27, 2012:
Thanks Jools99. I haven't got around to it yet, but I plan to write a hub about an Audubon Center across the river from me in St. Louis. It's a beautiful building and definitely the surrounding area is the place to go to see a variety of birds. Thanks for sharing!
Jools Hogg from North-East UK on August 27, 2012:
Danette, looks like you live in a good area for lots of different birds. Excellent hub full of good ideas and some great photos. Voted up and shared.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on June 17, 2012:
It sounds like you live in a great spot there in the country and entertaining what with the birds teasing the cats. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and kudos to you for getting 100 on the quiz. Thanks for sharing your story.
tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on June 17, 2012:
we live in the country and usually have a lot of birds, but for some reason they seem rather thin this summer. right now the birds visiting the feeders are the eurasian collared doves, sparrows and blackbirds. sometimes pheasants come in for a bite of corn as do wild turkeys. we also get magpies. and magpies are very entertaining birds. i watched one land right in front of one of my cats, just begging to get pounced on, and of course, she pounced. but the magpie just flew up in the air and landed just in front of her again, clearly enticing her. however, she was to smart to fall for it again and the magpie soon lost interest in her and went to find someone else to taunt. i rescue cats and atm have 16, tho only 4 run free outside of a shelter. but this has not always been the case. there was a time when they all ran free outside. and the only animals that were in danger from my cats were the local rodents. perhaps because they were used to chickens, they never bothered the birds. great post, very much enjoyed it. got a hundred on your quiz. it was fun.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on June 16, 2012:
Thanks moonlake for reading and leaving a comment. I wonder why the birds wouldn't use the birdbath on the deck? Thanks for sharing!
moonlake from America on June 16, 2012:
We have to move our heated birdbath this winter. The birds just won't use it on our deck. Enjoyed your hub. Voted up and shared.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on May 17, 2012:
Thanks! I do think this is one of my better hubs and I'm hoping I have better keyword terms in there.
Now on to another one....
Denise Handlon from Michigan on May 17, 2012:
I like your poll and other updates. Yes, I had already linked this one to my cardinal hub. Good job updating this one. :)
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on March 03, 2012:
hi rebeccamealey! If you are able to get a birdfeeder, even if it's a small one, I do recommend it. Birdwatching can be quite entertaining and bird songs are sweet to listen to. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 02, 2012:
Great ideas for attracting the birdies to your home. I love having birds visit and this makes me want to at least get a bird feeder.Thanks!
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on July 12, 2011:
Thanks for reading my hub, alocsin and fuscia.
@Alocsin - it isn't difficult to set up a bird feeder but then you'll be hooked and end up setting up extra feeders, making sure they have water...but it's fun!
@fucsia -- birds watching is relaxing isn't it? It's funny to watch how they jockey for position at the feeder.
fucsia on July 10, 2011:
This is a very good Hub! I adore birds, I like stay to watch them even for much time, they teach me the tranquility and patience. Thanks for sharing these advice.
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 10, 2011:
I've always wanted to do this. Thanks for offering some tips. Voting this Up and Useful.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on July 01, 2011:
Thanks Alicia for reading this hub. I'm glad you learned a new trick or two to attract more birds to your yard. They do fun to watch aren't they?
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2011:
This is a great hub and is also very useful! I love watching birds in my back garden from my bedroom window. You've taught me some new tricks to attract them and help them survive. Thanks for the information.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on June 28, 2011:
thanks Phil. My husband has since cut waaaayy back the cherry bush to the point of almost nothing there. We put up a trellis and planted a clematis there and the birds seem to like to sit on the trellis. I've noticed they've begun to sit in a tree more often that is closer to the window where I sit so I am actually able to see them better now.
Phil Plasma from Montreal, Quebec on June 28, 2011:
You've got some great tips there. I have a few of the components required for birds but I'm not yet up for a bird feeder. A bird bath, on the other hand; maybe I'll do that. Already we have a wealth of cardinals, sparrows and crows. It would be interesting to see what other birds I could draw out. Great hub earning you both a vote-up and a useful.
Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on May 16, 2011:
@ DDS -- you are right about the lawn chemicals -- very bad stuff.
@ Denise -- Thanks for the link
@ Cara -- thanks. Let me know if that works and I'll give it a try.
cardelean from Michigan on May 16, 2011:
Great hub! I must have missed it when I was out of town. I am trying this year to attract orioles to our yard. A co-worker told me that they love grape jelly and oranges. So we'll see. I'm not sure if all of the kid noises will scare them away!
Denise Handlon from Michigan on May 13, 2011:
Danette-this is a beautiful hub. Voted up, useful/awesome. Thanks for sharing. I do recall the other house-I loved it. The backyard was so cool. Nicely done! Thanks for the 'simple' tips. I'm going to 'link' this one to my bird hubs.
David Sproull from Toronto on May 13, 2011:
Lawn chemicals can also be bad for your local watershed as well!