How to Attract Birds to Your Yard

robin sitting on a branch

With a backyard full of beautiful birds, you’ll be happy as a lark. Our tips for attracting birds to your space will have your landscape fluttering with wings in no time.

Widespread habitat loss has caused a population decrease of 3 billion birds over the past 50 years. That’s a loss of one in four birds. Turning your yard into a safe haven for our avian friends is a big step toward ensuring songbirds keep singing for generations to come.

8 tips for attracting birds to your landscape

1. Choose an area to focus on

You might be eager to turn your whole backyard into a bird sanctuary, but it’s better to concentrate your efforts in one spot first. It’ll be easier to control the environment and to notice what works and what doesn’t.

Choose a spot in the corner of your yard that you’ll be able to see from wherever you spend time. A place in view of the kitchen window, office, or deck is a great choice. Other good qualities of a bird-friendly area are shrubs and trees to provide cover, as well as fertile soil for native plants. 

2. Diversify your feeders

A bird feeder is an obvious first step to attracting birds, but it’s not as simple as hanging one up in a random place. Different birds prefer different types of feeders placed at varying heights. Start with at least three feeders to appeal to multiple species and see what works. 

Different types of feeders

Tube feeders appeal to small birds like finches, sparrows, and chickadees. A cylinder containing seed is suspended in the air. Small perch areas are placed up and down its length. These are semi squirrel-resistant, though squirrels sometimes chew through the plastic tube. 

Hopper or house feeders attract jays, sparrows, cardinals, and finches. It looks like a little house with a small platform for perching. They can hold a lot of seed — enough to last several days — but if it gets wet, bacteria and fungus can grow quickly. They can be mounted or hung. 

Suet feeders are liked by nuthatches, starlings, and woodpeckers. Suet feeders usually come as a cage structure, though there are also mesh suet feeders you can nail or tie to a tree, suspend, or attach to a hopper feeder. Some suet cages only have an opening at the bottom, which tends to exclude starlings because they don’t like to hang upside down while feeding.

Ground or tray feeders bring ground feeders such as cardinals, grosbeaks, and blue jays. They’re the simplest of the feeders, consisting of a tray filled with seed on a wooden post, deck railing, or stump. Look for one with a screened bottom to help drainage. Even with a screened bottom, they need to be cleaned frequently, and seed is open to the elements and squirrels.

Nectar or hummingbird feeders are perfect for hummingbirds and orioles. A tube contains homemade nectar that’s released into small holes perfect for nectarivores’ long beaks. To make your own nectar, combine 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water. 

Where to place your feeders

Put your feeder somewhere you can view it all year and it has plenty of options for cover around it. A shrub or tree to retreat to is especially important for birds that tend to be a little on the shy side, like cardinals. Since different birds feed at different heights, make sure you have a variety of options for them. 

If you notice a lot of squirrels or chipmunks in your yard, you can put some bird feeders on posts away from any trees. It’ll only attract the more confident birds, but the seed will be safe from scavengers.

3. Stock up on food favorites

Now that you have your feeders, it’s time to decide what to put in them. Just like us, birds have snacks they can’t say no to and like a well-rounded diet. Skip the low-quality feed you’ll find at a big chain store and invest in quality feed from a pet store or online.

Types of bird feed

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds are a crowd-pleaser. They contain plenty of protein and fat and are easy for most birds to crack open. 
  • Safflower seeds attract mourning doves, chickadees, and finches.
  • Millet attracts robins, chickadees, and finches.
  • Nyjer brings nuthatches and finches.
  • Suet cakes are loved by woodpeckers, chickadees, and wrens.

Other safe treats for birds include peanut butter, mealworms, and fruits and fruit seeds. Small amounts of jelly can tempt orioles, catbirds, and even Cape May warblers to your yard. 

Eggshells are an unconventional midday meal, but they provide lots of grit and calcium — just be sure to use shells from hard-boiled eggs or bake them for 20 minutes at 250 degrees to eliminate any salmonella. Crush them into dime-sized pieces or smaller and place them in a dish or a ground feeder.

4. Create a water source

grey bird sitting on the edge of a bird bath
bobistraveling | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Birds like to be clean. In fact, many species like to take a bath every day to keep their feathers in tiptop shape. A shallow birdbath will encourage birds to spend time in your yard, and give you a chance to get a good look at them.

Choose a bath that is 1 to 3 inches deep. Birds have an ear for moving water to identify clean spots to bathe, so add a mister or pump for extra appeal. Place a solar-powered water pump in the middle of the bath and hold it in place with small rocks for a low-maintenance option. If you live in a cold climate, consider investing in a de-icer so birds can use the bath year-round. 

A pump will keep the water clean for a little longer, but it’s still important to give the bath a scrub every week or so to remove any algae, dead leaves, or bird droppings. Rinse it thoroughly if you use any kind of cleaning spray.

5. Plant a bird-friendly garden

For birds, gardens are the supreme hangout spot. They’re a place to perch, socialize, and grab a bite to eat. With the right plants, you can make your backyard the place to be for the bird community. 

For more native plant options and the birds they attract, check out this resource from the National Audubon Society. 

Plants that provide nectar

Nectar is the substance inside flowers that attracts pollinators like birds (and butterflies and bees, too). It’s essentially sugar water with a small mixture of proteins, salts, amino acids, and carbohydrates. Pollinators love it because it’s nutrient-dense and tasty, like a protein shake. 

The most nectar-loving bird is the hummingbird, whose needle-like beak is expertly designed to extract the sweet stuff. Native flowers that produce nectar usually attract insects too, which means they’re a great way to attract insectivorous birds.

Flowering plant type and the birds they attract:

  • Cornflower – Songbirds, goldfinches, bluebirds, phoebes, towhees
  • Milkweed – Ruby-throated hummingbirds, insectivorous birds
  • Cardinal flower – Hummingbirds
  • Trumpet honeysuckle – Hummingbirds, orioles, purple finches, hermit thrushes
  • Goldenrod – American goldfinch, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, white-throated sparrow
  • Field thistle – American goldfinch, house finch, indigo bunting, insectivorous birds
  • Jewelweed – Ruby-throated hummingbird, insectivorous birds

Plants that provide food

Nectar isn’t the only thing birds like to munch on. Seeds and berries are other calorie-rich foods that provide them with proper sustenance for long flights. If you plant something you also like to snack on (like wild grapes), harvest your share quickly so you’re not left empty-handed.

Seed- or berry-producing plant type and the birds they attract:

  • Purple coneflower – All seed-eating birds
  • Virginia creeper – Mockingbirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays
  • Marigolds – Sparrows, blackbirds, bluebirds, robins, thrushes
  • Holly – Song thrushes, redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds
  • Sunflowers – All seed-eating birds
  • Daisy – Cardinals, towhees, finches, sparrows
  • Black-eyed Susan – American goldfinch, insectivorous birds
  • Blazing star – American goldfinch, insectivorous birds
  • Staghorn sumac – Robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, starlings, Pileated woodpecker
  • Wild grape – Robins, bluebirds, thrushes, orioles, cardinals, mockingbirds

Plants that provide cover

Birds usually don’t spend much time in a place with nowhere to hide. That’s why plants that provide cover (like shrubs and trees) are essential to a bird-friendly environment. In addition to coverage, most of these plants also provide food sources or nesting materials. 

Oak: These large trees provide excellent cover for a number of birds. Find a species native to your area to ensure it thrives. Birds also like to eat the acorns it drops.

Cotoneaster: This shrub’s bright red berries resemble small tomatoes and are routinely stripped by hungry birds. It also provides great shelter. Waxwings, thrushes, and blackbirds pay visits to cotoneasters.

Dogwood: Cardinals, titmice, and bluebirds all love the fruit of dogwood trees. We humans tend to appreciate their beautiful flowers. The dogwood tree is often used as a nest site as well.

Elderberry: Elderberry is a fan favorite among the aviary community. Its dense shrubbery provides great cover and nesting sites. Many birds, including the brown thrasher and red-eyed vireo, also love elderberry’s indigo fruits.

6. Brighten your yard with colors

A bird can definitely tell you if that shirt’s navy or black — they see color even more clearly than humans. Turning up the saturation in your landscape will make it more attractive for feathery friends. 

Why do birds see color so well?

Color has important evolutionary purposes for birds. Bright plumage color is a sign of a healthy bird and can signal the start of the breeding season. Bright flowers contain nectar, and bright fruit is ready to eat. Even the changing color of the leaves is a signal for migration.

What colors exactly are birds attracted to? Well, it depends on the bird. A species’ favorite color is usually its own. 

  • Blue: Bluebirds, jays
  • Orange: Orioles
  • Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers
  • Red and pink: Hummingbirds

The only color to avoid is white. It signals danger or aggression for many birds, possibly due to the practice of flashing the white undersides of wings and tail feathers when disturbed. Reflective and metallic surfaces also can repel birds, so skip the gazing ball. 

The obvious way to add color to your garden is with flowers, but there are other ways to brighten your backyard.

Ways to incorporate color into your yard:

  • Paint fences and sheds a bright color using non-toxic paints.
  • Choose colorful decorative accents like wind chimes and accent stones for walkways.
  • Paint other hardscaping elements like trellises, pots, and benches a bright color.  
  • Tie vibrant ribbons around feeders.

7. Give opportunities for nesting

To make birds really feel at home, they need a house. There are a few different methods for encouraging nesting, including installing birdhouses, planting trees and shrubs birds can use to nest, and leaving out helpful materials.

Types of birdhouses:

  • A nest box, your typical birdhouse, can be a safe place for birds to raise their nestlings in spring and summer. There are at least 46 bird species in North America that are cavity nesters (birds that lay eggs and raise young inside sheltered areas). 
  • A roost box is like a nest box but designed to hold more birds and trap in heat. Instead of being a place to raise young, roost boxes provide shelter from the elements.

For both cavity nesters and birds that build their nests in the open, leave materials out that they can use for nesting. Opt for organic materials that will decompose naturally when possible. Stuff an empty suet cage feeder with your offerings and hang it on a tree branch. 

Materials to leave out for nesting:

  • Grass clippings
  • Dried weeds and leaves
  • Pet hair
  • String or yarn

8. Use environmentally friendly products on your lawn

If you truly want to craft a safe haven for birds, it’s important to take stock of the chemicals you’re using on your lawn. Attracting birds is one thing, but making sure your landscape is a suitable home for them is another.

Consider the products you use like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Can you trade out a broad-spectrum insecticide for a natural pest control method like beneficial nematodes? Focusing on good cultural practices for lawn care will help eliminate the need for chemical weed control. Although you have to apply higher doses, organic fertilizers are actually more beneficial for your soil environment than inorganic options. 

Don’t forget to take stock of the other materials you’re using outside like paints and cleaning sprays, particularly if you’re using them on feeders or other places birds might perch.

Benefits of backyard birds

Adds beauty

Even if you’re not an avid bird watcher, the flighty creatures add a distinct sense of beauty to your outdoor space. Watching them is an opportunity for you and your family to spend quality time enjoying nature, relaxing, and contemplating, and is an opportunity to educate yourself on your local ecosystem. A bustling bird community injects your landscape with life, learning, and delight. 

Helps ecosystems

Birds are essential members of their ecosystems. You might not guess it, but even the common blue jay plays an important role in preserving forests. They stash seeds as future meals to get through the winter, and many of those seeds grow into saplings. 

Encourages pollination

Did you know animals are responsible for pollinating almost 90% of the world’s plants and 75% of food crops? Birds are a major part of that. There are at least 2,000 species of pollinating birds all over the world.

When birds drink the nectar in flowers, they pick up pollen from the anther, which they then transfer to other flowers as they feed on the next one. This allows the plant to reproduce and build genetic variation that protects them from disease and pests. If you enjoy having flowers or fruiting trees in your landscape, pollinators are a must.

Get certified as a wildlife habitat

Once you’re all set up and birds are flocking to your home, you might be eligible to certify your backyard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. 

Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat requirements include:

  • Two different sources of shelter (natural or manmade)
  • Two different places to nest (natural or manmade)
  • Three different sources of food
  • One clean water source

The final requirement is employing practices from at least two of the sustainable gardening categories (soil and water conservation, controlling exotic species, and organic practices). You can read more about the process on the National Wildlife Federation’s website

Not everyone has time to install a new garden on their own. If you want professional help, contact a landscaping company in your area. Their team will walk you through design, installation, and maintenance.

Main Photo Credit: Jan Meeus | Unsplash

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.