Or “I don’t have any money now and the backyard birds eat better than I do”
First, my quest to attract birds to my yard has a happy ending and yours will too! Or, it at least has a happy middle since backyard birding is a journey rather than a destination. The most important tip for getting starting with backyard birding is BE PATIENT. My first weeks as a new birder were filled with empty feeders and disappointment but now my yard generally has dozens of birds feeding or hanging out, and we have over a dozen different species who make
To my own credit, I didn’t really expect to put the feeder up and immediately attract every Kentucky backyard bird to my feeder. But I didn’t expect total apathy, either.
I started by scattering sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, nuts, and other tidbits on the ground and that DID bring birds! Sparrows, mostly, to be precise. Since our yard was already covered with flocks of sparrows, that stood to reason. But I didn’t worry about getting the “wrong” birds because birds are curious and social, and a bunch of birds hopping around on the ground makes other birds stop and investigate.
It actually didn’t take much time before we had our first “good” bird visitor, a cardinal – a balding gent (they can molt their head crests, leaving them with a bald, black head) whom we lovingly dubbed “Sir Patrick”. With him, came a lady Cardinal, Beverly. Female cardinals are a soft fawn color, with bright orange beaks. They’re not as showy as the boys, but they’re very striking. Cardinals tend to mate for life, and we often saw Sir Patrick hop over to Beverly and gently pass a seed to her.
It was surprising how delightful I found it to scatter some seed and then watch the birds come – we quickly ended up with another redbird duo (Riker and Troi, respectively) and a juvenile male (Wesley, obviously).
Now, that all sounds great! I said I wanted backyard birds, and here was a whole crew of cardinals! Except, they weren’t really hanging around the garden for long. I also wasn’t keen on scattering food everywhere indefinitely, so I wanted to find a feeder they would use. After reading endless reviews of bird feeders, I settled on this feeder:
The filling mechanism is smart and the top is flared to make a built-in baffle (fancy name for flared top or lid that keeps squirrels out – these can be part of the feeder design or added to a pole or hanging feeders). The reaction was….underwhelming at first but not totally discouraging. The birds noticed it and explored it. Occasionally, one even perched and ate. Overall, the birds just didn’t seem to like it much. I kept moving it around, though and it finally became a hub of activity. Most days, this feeder is covered with house finches, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays and even woodpeckers.
In the interval, I experimented with other types of feeders, including a suet feeder for woodpeckers and a nyjer feeder for goldfinches. Both of those were fairly popular with the birds, but it still took a couple of weeks for them to become regular stops. I also added a bath because all of the research I did suggested it. Like the feeders, it took a long time and several locations before I finally found a spot the birds seemed to like. Now the birdbath is a real hotspot.
So what’s the real trick to going from very few backyard birds to tons of birds in your yard? Patience. It takes time for birds to notice new food, water or shelter sources. If you don’t see birds on a new feeder immediately, give it a few days. Watch and see if birds are approaching it but shying away or if they’re not even paying attention. Make changes accordingly, but make them slowly. Try not to change more than one element at a time.
Here’s a few more quick tips for getting started with backyard birding:
1 – Research. You need to know what species are in your area and what time of year they’re around. It doesn’t do any good to put out food for a bird that will almost certainly never show up in your location. Books are a great starting place but I recommend the Audobon app. It’s a great field guide and it also provides some data on recent local sightings. E-bird is another excellent resource for understanding your local bird population and their habits.
You can also talk to your neighbors, if any of them are birders. They can often be a great source of information and if you combine your efforts, you’re more likely to succeed.
2 – Check your landscaping. Some birds like open grassy areas and some like dense coverage. Others like both! If you’re not seeing much bird activity or if the birds you’re looking for don’t seem to stick around, make sure you’re providing the kind of habitat they like. The more diverse and eco-friendly your yard and garden, the better luck you’ll have getting backyard birds. One of the surest ways to have a yard full of birds is to add plants native to your region. These attract and support birds as well as insects and larvae that some birds eat.
If you use pesticides or have your yard sprayed for weeds or insects, stop. Not only is it awful for the environment, you’re probably poisoning the very birds you want in your yard. Insects or plants end up with insecticide or pesticide residue and when birds eat them, they become poisoned. At the very least, fewer “bugs” in your yard mean less food for birds like wrens, chickadees, mockingbirds and even hummingbirds.
3 – Quiet down. Birds aren’t fans of loud noises. The quieter you can make your yard, the more birds you’ll have. It’s not just a preference, either. Birds use song to communicate with each other, especially during mating season. If your yard is noisy, they won’t be able to hear each other and they’ll head to quieter places. The more you can reduce noise in your area, the more birds you’ll likely see.
4 – Do everything you can to deter predators. If you have a cat, keep it indoors and discourage stray cats from hanging out in your yard. I love cats but I don’t feed the neighborhood strays because I know my local birds won’t come around if there are cats in the yard. The safer you can make your yard for birds, the more they will hang out.
These tips worked to help me attract backyard birds and they can help you, too. It’s such joy to see the birds use our yard and garden, especially as new species show up and join the party.