Learn About Birds
To attract the bird species you want, you need to know about what kinds of birds live in your area. Find a friend who is a bird watcher, or check with a local nature center or the agricultural extension office for information. Remember to consult specific bird files here on our web site. Each bird has specific tastes in food and shelter. Goldfinches, redpolls, chickadees, titmice, and cardinals are examples of birds that like to eat wed seeds. Sparrows, wrens, nuthatches, juncos, and purple finches are great insect eaters, and so are our weed-eaters the cardinals and chickadees.
Keep Birds Interested
Use bird feeders to attract birds into the yard in winter, when they can accustom themselves to the berries and seeds on your new plants. Provide seed in bird feeders and suet cake in a suet cage for them year round. Reduce food amounts in summer, but don’t stop completely. Also continue to provide seeds, fruits, and food scraps such as stale bread over the winter.
Set up 1 or 2 birdbaths for a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing, which is essential for birds, especially those that feed mostly on seeds. In Northern areas, consider installing an automatic self filling birdbath or a birdbath heater to allow birds to drink the year round. Sometimes any old shallow container such as a garbage can lid to catch rainwater makes all the difference.
Map Your Yard
If you are going to plant more than just a few shrubs here and there, it is a very good idea to survey your property and get to know the trees, shrubs and other significant plants, and to learn if they are already supplying food and shelter for birds. If they aren’t, consider removing some of them and replacing them with more useful species. Then decide where to plant them. To do this successfully, you need to step back and take a look at the “big picture.” Sketch a rough plan of your yard on paper. By using graph paper, with its regular markings, you will get a good idea of the relative sizes of the shrubs and trees you have and you will know how many bird-friendly plants you can fit in the space you had intended for them. Suppose you find that a flowering dogwood will grow 20 to 25 feet tall and will spread about as wide as it matures. Your sketch should show that if you had a space about 50 feet long across the back of your yard, you should only plant 2 of these trees in that area, instead of the 3 or 4 you were tempted to buy! This kind of planning will help you when you go to the nursery to buy plants.
Let’s brainstorm a minute here. The more plants and the more different kinds of plants—shrubs, trees, grasses, vegetables, herbs, and flowers—the more birds you will attract by offering many choices of food and shelter. The more different kinds of habitats in your yard, such as waterside, wetlands, open meadow, wood’s edge—the greater the variety of birds it can support. Provide diversity in height with layers of plantings providing canopy, understory, and groundcover food sources. Choose plants for seasonal diversity to provide insects, summer fruits and berries, and seeds over the growing season. If your yard is mostly evergreens, add some deciduous shrubs, and vice-versa.
In at least one part of your yard, just let your plants do their own thing. Many birds need brush piles for shelter. Birds seek out worms and insects in leaf litter, dead tree stumps, weedy patches and other “natural” spots. If you have flowers, don’t “deadhead” them at the end of the season; let them form their seeds for hungry birds to find. Goldfinches, for example, search the bristly seedheads of black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers as well as seeds from weedy plants.