Providing habitat for birds can be as large of an idea as setting aside acres in the form of parks and conservancies, or something as small as providing what a bird needs in your backyard. Although many of us would enjoy and support the idea of designating acres of land to our wildlife, most of us cannot do so. Providing habitat on a smaller scale is something we can all do to embrace wildlife in our own backyards, and providing bird habitat is a great way to start. So where do we begin?
Birds, like most wildlife, require four basic needs: food, water, shelter, and nesting sites. Before you begin purchasing items for your backyard, a little planning and research may be required. If are trying to attract specific bird species to your yard, you need to find what their preferences are. Find out what type of food they prefer, area to nest, if they prefer nest boxes or other nesting areas, and do they prefer open lands or wooded lots? If you are just interested in attracting more birds to your yard, try mixing and matching a variety of foods and nesting areas to see what best attracts new species to your yard. Below are a few ways that you can provide these basic needs for birds in your backyard.
Food for birds can be provided in a variety of ways. Bird feeders are the first things to come to our minds, but not the only way to provide food. Many plants that are grown in gardens provide food for birds, whether it is nectar for hummingbirds, seeds for finches, or insects for flycatchers.
Bird Seed Birds Attracted
Sunflower Sparrows, Blackbirds
Safflower Grosbeaks, Chickadees, Doves
Millet Quail, Sparrows, Doves, Juncos- ground feeding birds
Cracked Corn Quail, Pheasant, Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Jays
Peanuts Jays, Crows, Chickadees, Titmice, Woodpeckers
Suet Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Kinglets
Mealworms Most bird species
Plants that attract birds with nectar, seed and/or berry
Mulberries (Morus species), White oak (Quercus alba), Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Spruces (Picea species), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Winterberry (holly) (Ilex verticillata), Serviceberry (Amelanchier Species), Birch (Betula species), Blueberry (Vaccinium species), Strawberry (Fragaria species), Bee Balm(Monarda), Dogwood (Cornus species), Crabapple (Malus); Elderberry (Sambucus), Viburnum (Viburnum), Aster (Aster), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Sunflower (Helianthus), Chokeberry (Aronia), Crabapple (Malus), Hackberry (Celtis), Hawthorn (Crataegus), Holly (Ilex), Bayberry (Myrica), Firethorn (Pyracantha), Sumac (Rhus), and Shrub Rose (Rosa).
Providing a water source is an essential part of attracting birds to your backyard. Whether for drinking or bathing, birds need water. Bathing allows the birds to remove dust and parasites from their feathers. Water can be provided in a variety of ways including bird baths and decorative fountains. When choosing a bird bath, select one that is shallow and easy to clean. Many birds like to wade into the water, but water that is too deep will deter birds from entering. When selecting a fountain, choose one that creates shallow puddles on the side, but still has flowing water. The flowing water will attract the birds for both drinking and bathing. Another option is to create your own watering station by digging a shallow hole, lining it with plastic, and installing a pump to circulate water. Lastly, having areas for birds to perch in the sun after their bath will make your backyard a favorite among birds.
Providing shelter does not necessarily mean putting up nest boxes. Shelter can be as simple as a place for birds to get out of sight from danger or out of the wind. Many birds will congregate in conifers during the winter as the trees block the wind and the snow, providing them with shelter. During the summer months, trees and shrubs alike provide safe areas to hide from predators and the sun. When doing plantings in your back yard, keep in mind where a bird might like to take a break.
All birds reproduce, some making elaborate nests, others on the bare ground. Providing nesting materials and nesting sites will help attract birds. If you are interested in attracting a particular species, spend some time researching their nesting habits. Do they like nest boxes or prefer different sites? What do they use to build their nests? Is that available in my backyard? When choosing a nest box, look at the size of the entrance hole. If it is too big for your preferred bird, it will allow competing birds and even predators to enter. If it is too small, your preferred bird might not fit. Always look for a box that is able to be cleaned. Periodic cleaning of nest boxes reduces parasites and pests that may reduce the overall health of your visiting birds. If you are not interested in a particular species, try varying the sizes of nest boxes you purchase and providing a variety of materials for the birds to use. Some examples include grasses, pine needles, twigs, and animal hair (dog, horse, etc.).
By providing food, water, shelter, and nesting sites you are sure to attract a variety of birds to your backyard habitat. If you are interested in more information about birds and bird habitat, check out books at your local library or some of the resources below. Enjoy!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds
Ohio Landscape Association: Creating Your Landscape to Attract Birds
UW Extension: Landscape Plants that Attract Birds
National Wildlife Federation: Wildlife Gardening
Wild Ones: Native Plants, Native Landscapes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Backyard Birding