Bird Gardening

Gardening for birdsThe #1 way to attract the biggest variety of birds to your backyard is by planting a diverse selection of shrubs, flowers, trees, ground cover, and plants.  Gardening for birds give them food, nesting sites, shelter, and even more water.  This provides wild birds with the habitat they need to thrive.

The key word in gardening for birds or wildlife is diversity.  Don’t plant just a few varieties of anything.  Plant MANY different species of flowers, trees, shrubs, etc.  The bottom line is:  the more kinds of plantings you have, the more kinds of birds you’ll get!

The types of plantings you put in your yard will depend a lot on the local climate and what is native to your area.  In general, you’re always better off planting native plants and trees.  For one thing, this is what the local birds and wildlife have evolved to depend on for food, nesting sites, and shelter.  Also, they tend to grow more easily than non-native plants.  The best source for information on native plants in your area is the local state agricultural extension office.

Here are some general tips for “birdscaping” your property:

  • Try to create a “layer effect” in which you plant larger trees in back, with tall to medium shrubs in front of them, and then shorter plants and flowers in the front.
  • Alway try to incorporate some pines, evergreens, or spruces for winter food and shelter.
  •  Plant as many different berry-producting shrubs and trees as you can.  Make sure the berries ripen at different times of the year so birds always have a food source.  Ex. cotoneaster, viburnum, pyracantha, holly.
  •  If space allows, plant a wildflower meadow of native plants.
  • Hedges are great nesting places, but let them grow out with lots of space between branches.
  • Plant tubular shaped flowers to attract hummingbirds – examples are foxglove, trumpet vine, columbine, coral bells.
  • Let wildflowers go to seed and leave them up well into the fall so birds can feed on them.
  • Set up brush piles in your yard to give birds shelter in cold weather.
  • Don’t cut down every dead snag either.   A lot of birds like woodpeckers and flickers get food from them or nest in them,  and other birds use them as vantage points.
  • Don’t forget about butterflies.  Plant host plants for their caterpillars and nectar plants for adults.  Examples are milkweed for Monarch larva and Butterfly Bush for most summer butterflies.
  • Reduce your area of lawn gradually.  Grass is a monoculture that doesn’t support many species of insects or birds. 
  • Plant a rain garden – a low area of your yard that collects rain water runoff – and put lots of plants in there that will thrive in moist soil.

A good piece of advice is to learn what are the common invasive, non-native plants in your area. Holly berries for birds  Some of these plants are relatively benign.  But, others are highly aggressive and will take over entire areas of your property unless they are controlled.   In the south, you can see entire locations engulfed in kudzu vine.  In my yard, it is a constant war to keep cutting out the autumn olive shrubs.  So, on a regular basis, check for these unwanted plants and remove them from your habitat.

We will be adding more resources to this site including regional planting lists that birds like.  So, please keep checking back!

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology