Seven Easy Ways to Attract More Birds to Your Backyard
And why you may want to reconsider your lawn mower.
If you want to attract the most common birds to your backyard, there are a few things in your yard that make it an inviting place for your avian guests. By turning your yard into a safe haven and natural habitat for the birds in your area, you will not only have a beautiful view of nature without needing to leave your house but you will also be helping the environment.
"Making our backyards more attractive to birds is one of the best things any of us can do for the environment," says Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at The National Aviary. "The potential cumulative impact converting the the great American lawn-scape into a bird-friendly landscape is tremendous." Bird-friendly landscapes don't require any chemicals, very little watering and minimal pruning, cutting, or mowing. It helps to let nature take back some of the control in your yard but, rest assured, you can still let your yard grow a little wild without it looking messy or unkempt.
Let your grass grow.
Manicured lawns with grass cut so low that it's like a green carpet along the ground might look neat and tidy, but it's not very inviting to birds. "It is true that the American love affair with lawns has benefited a handful of species, most notably the American Robin," explains Mulvihill. "But our lawn-dominated landscapes are like deserts for most other kinds of birds and wildlife." He suggests reducing your mowed lawn by at least half. You can also choose to let your grass be a little taller than the typical mowed lawn. It can still look very neat but provide more cover for birds and opportunities for them to find seeds.
Gather a brush pile.
Brush piles need not to be huge, unsightly piles of sticks and branches. "You can trim branches and take a few of them, laying one over the other, but spacing them out across the yard," says Jen Brumfield, naturalist and birding expert at Cleveland Metroparks. "The brush pile can be set back on the property, at the base of a tree or behind a bush." You can find different ways to incorporate brush piles, which should be wider than they are tall, into the design of your landscape; they should provide food, cover, and nesting for different types of birds.
Provide water features.
Have a fountain or stream running through your landscape. "Water features are another great way to attract birds to the yard," says Anne Marie Johnson, Project Feederwatch assistant at the Cornell Lab for Ornithology. "Birds love moving water because movement tends to purify water—think about the quality of water in a fast-moving stream versus a [stagnant] pond." Water features require a little more work than some of the other methods, but they can be very enticing to birds. What if you can't afford to put in an elaborate moving water feature? Then bird baths are a decent option. "All birds need to bathe, and a stand-alone pedal bird bath will appeal to all types of birds," says Brumfield. "You may even see migrating birds, hawks, and owls stopping on your property to take a bath."
Grow native plants.
Like most animals, birds want to be wherever they can find food and shelter. "Select shrubs and trees that produce berries and nuts and also provide protective cover," advises Lynn Holtzman, a wildlife management and ornithology instructor at Hocking College. "Arrange the plantings so that the bird species [that you want to bring to your yard] have easy access to it at the time of year that they need it." Birds can feast on the berries, nuts, and seeds that occur naturally in your yard. The shrubs also give them a great place to hide from predators. Be sure to choose plants that are native to your region due to the fact that non-native plants can unbalance the local ecology. (As an added benefit, hedge rows also provide a natural fence for your property, as Brumfield explains.)
Install a bird feeder.
You'd want to go to the places that offer free food, wouldn't you? Birds are the same way. Invest in a quality bird feeder for your yard and stock it well with food that appeals to the bird species that you want to attract. "Black-oil sunflower seeds and suet are a great way to attract birds," says Brumfield. "Goldfinches like to eat thistles, so you can get thistle feeders for your backyard to draw them to your yard." Whole peanuts are also a delicious and healthy food source for birds. If you keep them in the shell, you might have to get a special bird feeder designed for whole peanuts; and keep in mind that peanuts should be unsalted and unseasoned.
Set up nesting boxes.
Although most birds prefer natural cavities for nesting, a well-designed nesting box can serve as a good replacement. "These should be built according to the size specification for the bird species targeted," says Holtzman. "A house wren opening will be smaller than an opening for wood ducks." You will also need to clean and maintain the nesting boxes every year to ensure the nesting success and survival of the birds. "Cavity nesting birds have a tendency to return to the same site every year, so maintaining the box is crucial to their long-term reproductive success," he explains.
Avoid pesticides and herbicides.
Chemical pesticides and herbicides wreak havoc on the natural environment. Many chemicals will also be toxic to the birds that you want to visit in your yard. Mulvihill recommends forgoing the use of these chemicals if you want birds in your backyard. Birds provide natural pest and weed control, anyway. They like to eat insects and seeds in the grass and on your plants. Your yard won't become an untamable jungle without chemicals if you let nature do what it was designed to do.