Backyard Birding Tips: Plants and Feeders to Attract Birds

Take a look outside, and you’ll probably see a winged visitor or two flying by. If you enjoy watching birds and would like to get better acquainted with the many different types in your area, you can easily coax them to your own backyard sanctuary simply by supplying their most important needs: shelter, food, and water. Whether you live in a large rural area or a small city dwelling, the birds will begin making frequent stops to your garden when you provide cover plants, feeders, and water.

Before you get started on your new venture, you might want to become familiar with the particular birds in your area. Birding field guides are a great resource for learning about the habitat and feeding preferences of a particular species of bird as well as information on where to find them and how to identify certain birds. Field guides are packed full of beautiful, color pictures for making identification easy. Other birding resources can be found in a variety of bird books and magazines as well as through local bird societies and fellow birding groups. Keeping a journal listing the various birds you have seen along with illustrations can be helpful. Checklists of birds in your area are also available. Birds are not only beautiful creatures, but they sing too. It doesn’t hurt to become familiar with each bird’s song. To get a bird’s eye view of these wonderful, winged creatures, get yourself a good pair of binoculars. This way, even at a distance, you’ll be able to enjoy a variety of birds up close and personal for further studying.

When you begin planning out your backyard garden, take a stroll around your property, jotting down notes and making a list of existing trees and other plant life. This will help determine the types of plants you may need to add. The best way to attract birds to a backyard garden is to put yourself in their place; see things from a bird’s point of view. Does your backyard provide adequate shelter, food, and water features for a variety of birds? A wide variety of plant life in the form of flowers, shrubs, and trees as well as fallen logs, dead trees, and brush piles can provide any bird with much needed shelter. Birds require shelter to protect them from adverse weather conditions and predators. They not only enjoy having a quiet place to perch, especially at night, but relish in the safety of secluded areas for both nesting in and raising offspring. Brush piles offer great sanctuaries for nesting sites. Keep in mind that different types of birds require different types of cover. Those that spend a lot of time on the ground, for instance, need low-growing trees, shrubs, and ground covers. Some of these ground birds, like robins, also require plenty of lawn for digging up worms.

Providing birds with natural food sources is extremely important and one of the best ways to attract them to your backyard oasis. Insects are considered a natural food source for many birds. Therefore, if you plan on using any fertilizer on your lawn or plants, choose an organic type to prevent harming your bird friends. Mulch can also be a good source for finding insects as they tend to burrow beneath. Birds will scratch and dig in these areas in search of their favorite insects. Native plants provide an array of seeds, nuts, berries, and fruit for birds; however, you should take note beforehand the types of plants native to your particular area. Your backyard garden should include a variety of cover plants that consist of both berry-producing and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. Incorporating mountain ash will attract cedar waxwings, robins, and cardinals; while plantings of serviceberry will bring about bluebirds and wood thrushes. Fruit-bearing plants such as winterberry, crabapple, and bayberry will attract a wider variety of birds to your backyard garden. These also play a vital role during cold weather when other food sources, such as insects, are scarce. Nectar-producing plants, such as flowering tobacco and fuchsias, should also be incorporated into your backyard bird garden. This will attract hummingbirds.

Supplemental food should be included as well by using a variety of bird feeders. Hummingbirds, for example, will greatly appreciate feeders filled with sugar water. It’s important to choose the right food for the right birds. Not only will this help attract the birds you want in your backyard garden but will also discourage the ones you don’t want from taking up residence. Too many birds can become a problem; however, this is easy to control. You can simply offer smaller amounts of food, use only specialty seeds, or provide feeders adapted to specific species. Different birds have different preferences so provide various feeders to accommodate them. For instance, nearly all birds love sunflowers, but some might only prefer suet instead. The types of seed you offer will determine the species of bird that frequents your backyard garden. Finches enjoy niger and sunflower. Cardinals, blue jays, and chickadees love black oil sunflower seeds. Morning doves prefer cracked corn as well as ducks and geese, if you have any nearby. Doves will also eat safflower and millet. Sparrows may occasionally eat this as well. Provide mealworms for bluebirds and suet for woodpeckers. Peanuts are great for attracting titmice, white-throated sparrows, and blue jays. Place orange halves on a post with nails to attract orioles.

When it comes to feeders, there are many styles and types to choose from. There are netting-type feeders, plastic tube feeders, ceramic feeders, a variety of wooden feeders, metal feeders, bottle feeders, and tray feeders. Look for types that include adequate drainage to prevent diseases caused by wet or moldy seed as well as bird droppings. Changing your feeders frequently will prevent seeds from becoming stale or moldy as well as discourage the possible spreading of diseases. You should also clean your feeders on a regular basis. Most feeders can get by with monthly cleanings in hot, soapy water and some bleach. However, some types may require more frequent cleanings, such as hummingbird feeders, which should be cleaned on a weekly basis. These feeders can also attract ants; regular cleaning can help alleviate this problem.

Carefully consider the placement of your feeders. Birdfeeders should always be located near cover for quick escape, if threatened. They should also be situated in an area within easy viewing from indoors as well as seating areas in the garden. Place your feeders at varying heights and eye levels to accommodate each species’ preferences. Finches, for example, prefer a hanging or post feeder; while cardinals and blue jays like tray feeders. Doves, sparrows, and juncos prefer being closer to ground level; while woodpeckers enjoy the higher elevations of trees. Hummingbird feeders should be hung nearby favorite plants like fuchsias. Beware of squirrels, if you choose to hang anything from a tree as it is likely to be taken over. Tube feeders protected by metal mesh and pole feeders with baffles attached can help deter squirrels.

Finally, supply birds with water year round. Not only do they drink water, but they frequently bathe in it as well to keep their feathers in shape for flying. Water can be offered in the form of simple birdbaths placed within the backyard garden or even shallow 2-inch pans. You can also create a small pond, if space permits. Birds are especially fond of moving water, and the placement of fountains in your backyard garden will attract them like magnets. Even migrating birds which are not often seen in the garden, such as warblers and flycatchers, might stop in for quick drink or bath while passing through. Situate your water feature within easy viewing as well and surround it with cover plants.

What is a garden without birds? A backyard garden designed for birds provides a safe haven from harsh weather and hungry predators, a welcome resting place and nesting site for raising young, and an abundance of fresh food and water. No matter where you live, as long as you supply them with shelter, food, and water, these beautiful, feathered creatures will make an appearance. Enjoy the world of birding by turning your backyard into a bird-friendly garden.

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