How to Attract Birds to Your Yard

Many people enjoy observing wildlife in their gardens. Several years ago I wrote about attracting pollinators to the yard. First there was a post on bringing honey bees into your garden. Lots of different plants were discussed, but if you need a refresher, hardy salvia, lavender, and rudbeckia are all great additions.  The second part of the pollinator series was a post on how to make a  Butterfly Garden . Now let’s talk about birds.

According to the Sierra Club, in 1970 there were 3 billion more birds flying the North American skies than today. The modern world in the USA has not been kind to wildlife including birds. Loss of habitat as cities grow means loss of home for many of our bird friends. Now let’s discuss birdscaping or landscaping your yard to benefit birds. It’s not hard to make your backyard a haven for birds. You must provide the essentials: food, water, and shelter. Also, birds generally prefer a landscape rich in trees and shrubs. Birdscaping not only provides places for our feathered friends but also benefits bats, bees, butterflies, and all your region’s flora and fauna. People think it’s progress to keep building and expanding and then wonder why don’t I see butterflies and birds. It’s hard to destroy all the natural habitats and expect other species to survive. Now let’s talk about 5 steps to help our feathered friends.

I. Fill your yard with native plants

When I say fill your yard, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your roses or Japanese iris that you love. It does mean you should add less exotic plants and look for those which are native to your area. Just as butterflies only lay eggs on natives, birds thrive with native species. If each gardener who loves wildlife had native plants, then their backyards become individual wildlife havens. Native plants offer the right food at the right time. To maximize impact, choose plants that offer a variety of foods, from berries and seeds to nuts and nectar (and insects!). What I need in my central Florida yard won’t work with more northern climates. What works in upstate New York doesn’t work in south Texas. Plants evolve with the wildlife we enjoy. Your local flying friends look for trees, bushes, and other plants that were part of the environment before man “landscaped” it. Native plants require little care beyond the first season, giving you both the gift of natural beauty and the time to enjoy it. Using native plants is sustainable, climate-resilient, and water-wise to boot. 

To find native plants for your area, you can ask at your local garden center. For fast online results, The National Wildlife Federation has a USA database. Go to Specify Your Location and enter your US zip code for filtered results. This gives you flowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs that will create a friendly oasis for wildlife. There is also a database at the National Audubon Society and Native Backyards. For other areas around the globe, check with local wildlife societies. For Central Europe, check out Common Useful Wild Plants in Central Europe. For the U.K., check out Kew Gardens U.K. Native Plants & Fungi. If you want to attract specific birds like a hummingbird, be sure to check what attracts the specific bird. There is so much information available to help you create your favorite bird’s idea of heaven.

II. Provide water and a place to bath

Birds need fresh water and love gently moving water. If you have a water feature in the yard, the birds and you will enjoy it. A waterfall or dripping feature attracts feeder birds and will also attract birds that may not visit your bird feeders. Bird-oriented ponds differ from decorative ponds because they blend in naturally with the surrounding environment and landscape, letting birds view your pond as an extension of their natural habitat.

Just like you want a glass of clean water when you’re thirsty, birds need clean water daily to drink. If you put out a bird bath, add fresh water each day and clean the bath at least twice weekly. Be sure to make that commitment if you want a bird bath in the garden. Dirty water is not healthy for any living creature. Right now there are so many wildfires and areas under intense heat this summer. That means all wildlife is probably under attack with breathing smoke and/or living in extreme heat and needing water.

Many birds clean themselves in fresh water. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a fancy bird bath. You need just a shallow, sloped water source with a rough surface to grip onto, such as terra-cotta, and an ideal water depth of 1 to 3 inches. Bob Vila has an interesting post with 14 Approaches to DIY a Bird Bath. Others from sparrows to kestrels bath in sand or gravel taking dust baths. A patch of dry, sandy soil can double as gravel or sand too. Luckily for birds in my area, central Florida’s soil is mostly sand and there’s always spots that don’t have grass.

III. Birds need protection and cover

Providing cover could be one of the most important things you could do to attract birds. Cover means offering natural plants, shrubs and trees or roosting boxes and bird houses in your yard habitat. Certain plants provide food and/or shelter for certain birds. Concentrate on plants that grow at low levels, medium levels and high levels. This will create a perfect atmosphere for bird protection. Your local nursery can give you excellent advice on which trees and shrubs grow best in your area and planting instructions for success. Overall, I think evergreen trees are probably one of the best investments in your backyard for offering shelter and food to wild birds.

Leave your bird houses out all year. After the mating season has passed, clean out any old nesting material and scrub with soap and water. Let them dry thoroughly before remounting. Many birds might use the birdhouse as a roosting cavity to get out of cold weather. You can also mount a Roosting Box or shelf for added cover and protection.

IV. Think seasonal

Choose a variety of plants that will offer something for all seasons and, if possible, all types of food. Try to introduce plants that provide 4 seasons of cover, food, and roost. This absolutely means having a feeder during cold months. Go for higher-protein fare when colder temperatures hit, like suet, peanuts, or a high-quality seed mix. Try to keep at least one feeder stocked (and clean) at all times so your backyard visitors have a dependable food source.

Also a heated birdbath is key for cold climates. When temperatures drop and water freezes, birds can have a tough time finding a place to drink, preen, and bathe. Check local stores and online for them such as Amazon.

V. Do what you can with what you have

Practically no place is too small to make a difference. If you are a renter or a condo dweller and have a patio or balcony, you can grow native plants in large pots. Add a feeder, roost box or birdhouse and have a dish of water. It may be small, but some small birds will thank you by visiting your “garden”. Remember no matter the size of your yard, color attracts birds.

In conclusion. . .

Birdscaped backyards provide birds with bird feeders and seed-producing plants for food, native plants for hiding and nesting, and water sources for drinking and bathing. Try some of the suggestions to attract more feathered friends to your garden. Happy bird views!

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

22 thoughts to “How to Attract Birds to Your Yard”

    1. Try putting out overripe fruit. Let it sit for a few days using a bird bath or a raised clay saucer to raise the fruit off the ground.

  1. Those are some great tips, Carol. And those bird pictures you shared are just beautiful. The 2nd one is my favorite. Do you know what kind of bird is it? The one with yellow breast?

    1. It’s a European robin and the computer must be changing the color as it’s supposed to be in the red family although a little rusty looking.

  2. I get a lot of birds in my garden thanks to my bird feeders. I made a point of making sure there was water too, they do like to splash around in it especially when I’ve just filled it up. Great advice.

    1. You’re very welcome. It makes me so happy it helps you. Don’t you hate writing in a vacuum with no feedback? It makes me braver to try something different.

  3. Thanks Carol, We have a bird feeder and we do get small brown birds. I would love to get more varieties. I’ll try the bird bath. Great post . Thanks.

    1. The bird bath may help and add a couple of bird houses or roosts to a few trees. Got my fingers crossed for more birds!

  4. The photo of the bird in the bath is brilliant! I have two blackbirds who like to ‘bath’ in dry soil but they can be quite destructive and peck at plant roots too. Now I’m wondering if I should make a small area for them to ‘bath’ without destroying anything…


    1. that’s a good question – I’d read up on blackbirds dust baths for more information.

  5. These are some great tips! I love watching the birds and seeing the different varieties that visit our yard.

  6. Hi Carol. I love this article. We are having the best time this year watching the humming birds hit the two feeders that we provided. My neighbor takes care of the other birds by providing a feeder and I love watching them from my window. But I am partial to huming birds because they are so tiny. But we’ve noticed that they can be fiesty. Our first feeder only had one port and they would sometimes fight to get to it so we changed it out for one with several ports to avoid the fights and to attract more birds. So fun. Thanks for sharing your tips at #aclwcc. Pinned.

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