How to Attract Birds to your Backyard
Backyard bird watching has a reputation as a bit of a middle-aged snooze-fest but it can be incredibly exciting and satisfying! (Disclaimer, I am in fact middle-aged, so I’m not an objective source). There’s something wonderful about creating a habitat and environment that attracts a huge range of birds and other wildlife. So how do you get started backyard bird watching? The good news is it’s very easy to start and you can expand your efforts as you go. Read on for my 10 best tips of getting started with backyard bird watching.
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1 – Start with the birds you already see in or around your yard. Learn what species they are and do a bit of research on their preferred food, habitat and migration. Start with food, feeders and habitat likely to appeal to the birds you already see. Even if you ultimately want to attract new species, bird activity attracts other birds, so encourage the locals to gather. Making use of the birds who already enjoy your yard is the best way to get started with bird watching in your own backyard.
2 – Add water! Virtually all birds need water to drink and to bathe in. It keeps them clean and cool and even birds who don’t go in for seeds and feeders will stop by for a drink. Birds are more likely to notice your water if it moves or makes noise, so if you can use a dripper or a fountain, so much the better. Make sure the water is always fresh and clean and that the basin is free from debris and algae. Depending on your birds, you may need to provide water in a range of depths, since little birds need shallower water than big birds. A few flats stones in a larger bird bath can make it appealing and safe for smaller birds. Learn how to get birds to use a bird bath.
3 -To attract specific species, research what kind of food the bird(s) in question prefers, and also how they like to eat. Some birds like small seeds in feeders, others meal worms on a platform feeder and some don’t use feeders at all. Goldfinch eat very small seeds, either from special feeders or directly from flowers, for example. If you don’t have their preferred food, they’re not likely to stick around.
4 – If the birds you hope to attract don’t eat from feeders or aren’t into seeds, put in plants that can serve as a food source (like berries). Or put in plants that attract insects that your desired species eats. Eastern bluebirds and Carolina wrens will visit feeders, but are more interested in eating insects and small worms, for example. By limiting your use of pesticides and encouraging a healthy and balanced ecosystem, you’ll ensure there’s plenty for the birds to eat.
5 -Some birds will nest in human-provided boxes or shelters, while others nest in trees, brush or natural cavities. You may not be able to attract the bird you want with feeders, but offering shelter may tempt them. Most species have fairly specific preferences for their nesting sites, so research the needs of your desired species.
6 – Keep it clean! If you put out feeders, a bird bath, or houses, make sure you keep them clean. Clear up any spilled or spoiled food, scrub out the basin regularly and make sure houses and perches are kept clean, free of debris and waste. You’ll have a more appealing environment for your birds (and yourself!) AND you’ll be ensuring they stay healthy. Pay attention to local health alerts for your area, too. There are, sadly, occasional outbreaks of bird diseases which can necessitate temporarily removing feeders or cleaning more often.
7- Check your landscaping – some birds like open areas and some prefer dense growth. Your yard or garden may be large enough for you to offer both, which will increase the number of birds you’re likely to see. If you can leave even a bit of scrub or brush or some dead limbs (only if it’s safe to do so), that can provide shelter and protection, which makes birds feel safe and secure in your yard.
Check out Weird Things to Know About Backyard Birds – it can help you understand your birds and how to attract more of them.
8 – Consider the season – birds need food year round, but the kind and amount of food may vary seasonally. Migration of your region’s birds will change the food or habitat needs of your visitors. Even non-migratory birds have cyclical habits. Our blue jays stick around over the winter but don’t visit our feeders or yard much. Come late spring, they hang out in our trees all day long, begging for peanuts. The Carolina wrens are very active in our garden all winter and come to the feeder for nuts and seeds but we don’t see much of them in spring or early summer. Those two seasonal behavior patterns change how we offer food.
9 – If you’re not getting the bird activity you want, it might be time to change things up! Spend time watching your feeders, fountains or habitats. See if one spot seems more popular, and figure out why. Maybe your feeder is too close to a sidewalk or the bird bath isn’t close enough to sheltering trees. Birds like to eat, drink and roost where they feel safe. A feeder that’s near noise or traffic or that isn’t securely hung might make birds a little gun shy. Likewise, if there are roaming predators, birds won’t want to hang around.
Try to change only one thing at a time. Move a feeder to a new spot and see what happens but don’t also change the type of food, for example. Make one change, see what happens, then adjust further as you learn more.
10 – Enjoy yourself! Take time to just sit back and watch your feathered friends – it’s easy to get caught up in trying to attract new birds or in fussing with the feeders or whatever, but be sure to just enjoy the show.
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It’s incredibly rewarding to create a sanctuary for birds in your yard. Nothing beats sipping my morning coffee while watching the cardinals, blue jays, wrens and goldfinches feed and frolic. You can start with one feeder and see what happens or you can go all in and set up a variety. No matter how you start, you’re sure to find backyard bird watching fun and rewarding.