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How to attract birds to your garden

attract birds to your garden
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Considering how to attract birds to your garden, but not sure if your yard is wildlife friendly? You’ve come to the right place. We want to help you make your garden as welcoming as possible to a range of birds through some simple and accessible steps. You can also take a look at our guides to buying the best bird feeder and the best squirrel-proof bird feeders.

A common misconception is that putting a bird feeder out is a surefire way to attract birds to your garden. In reality, there is a lot more to consider here. If you want to attract a variety of bird species, it’ll take more than sprinkling a few seeds to make them flock to your yard. Birds are dynamic creatures with a host of requirements. They need natural food sources, as well as supplementary ones in the winter, accessible water sources, and shelter to feel safe – birds won’t feed or nest anywhere if they sense danger is nearby. 

And if you have any pet birds who you give free rein to in your garden, they will love the adjustments too! 

How to provide the right food

A bird feeder isn’t the only source of food birds search for, but it is a good place to start. First off, making sure you’re putting out the right seeds for the type of bird you want to attract to your garden is crucial. 

A great beginner’s option is Black-Oil Sunflower. This type of seed is highly popular with a lot of species, including cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, grosbeaks, finches, nutcrackers, juncos, house sparrows, blackbirds, doves, and grackles. 

If you want to branch out with some more targeted bird feed, nectar is a great choice. For this you’ll need a hummingbird feeder to supply the sugar water, but it’s a worthwhile investment to see hummingbirds enjoying the tasty treats you’ve put out for them. Nectar should also attract the increasingly rare oriole! 

For another approach, you could leave out suet (a form of animal fat) to entice insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. This is especially good to do in fall and winter when other resources are scarce, but remember to replenish this often, as old suet doesn’t look attractive to you or your bird visitors.

A key consideration to make while utilizing bird feeders is their placement within your garden. To help the birds feel safe while nibbling on seeds and nectar, try placing the feeder away from trees, and hedges which cats and other predators could climb, or even next to a prickly shrub to help keep those predators away. Another useful tip is to move the feeder around occasionally to prevent the predators from learning its location. 

If you’re struggling to select the perfect feeder, check out our handy buying guides: 

  1. Best bird feeder: Get birds of a feather flocking together in your garden
  2. Best squirrel-proof bird feeder

So what else can you do to help out birds on their hunt for food? A great idea is to get planting. 

The same factors come into play here as with selecting the perfect seeds to lay out. Depending on which birds you want to attract into your garden, there are different berry-growing plants to introduce. This can be variable on your own location.

According to new research, even when fruits of invasive plants are abundant, migratory songbirds seek out native berries. A study published in Biological Conservation in January found, ‘Birds primarily consumed the fruits of native species throughout the autumn season.’ Project lead and ecologist, Amanda Gallinat, says this is down to the nutritional value: ‘They can’t be eating ‘fast food’ before they take off on really long migrations. They need something with high energy.’  

To find out what plants are native to your area, you can use this handy finder: Audubon Native Plants Database 

If you’re after a berry to bring lots of birds to your yard, elderberry is your go-to. Warblers, orioles, tanagers, catbirds, waxwings, mockingbirds, and thrashers will all flock to get a taste; the vitamins provided by the elderberry’s nectar is essentially a superfood for birds.

One of the United States’ most prolific flowering landscape shrub is the viburnum, commonly known as the cranberry. This shrub is very easy to grow, and will be resilient through many different environments. Cranberry will attract a range of birds as well, including robins, catbirds, thrushes, cardinals, finches, waxwings, and bluebirds.   

And of course, simply having a lawn will encourage insects to make your garden their home too, which the birds will love to feast on.

How to provide accessible water 

There are a few methods that can be used to ensure you’re providing water in the best way possible to attract birds to your garden. 

A common way to lay out water is through bird baths, but it is easy for this to be too exposed. But don’t worry; it’s easy to fix this with a few helpful tips. 

First of all, ensure the bird bath is low. This emulates the level at which birds usually find water, so they’re more likely to take a drink if it is not on a podium. For extra security, you can place the bird bath in open spaces to give them chance to see predators coming, and thus feel safer. That said, positioning the bath in a shady area is also crucial, as birds use water to cool off, so direct sunlight won’t be as effective in enticing birds to your garden. Maybe look for shadows that last during the day from tall trees and walls to help keep the water cool. And if it’s nice and shallow, this will create the perfect combination for songbirds to splash around in. 

A problem people often encounter is making the water resources visible enough for birds. A key way to counter this can be to install sources with noise so that birds can hear the water as they would in nature. 

Bill Thompson, Editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, shares how you can do this: “Moving water sparkles in the sunlight and catches the attention of birds. Far more birds began coming to our birdbath after we added motion to the water than had come to the still-water bath. 

“A mister or dripper fastened to your hose (with the spigot turned on low) will add motion to your bath. Even better is a bath with a recirculating pump built into a large-reservoir basin.” 

How to provide shelter

On those frosty winter nights, birds will search high and low for the perfect abode to take shelter in, and you can give them a helping hand by having the right practices in place. For a natural remedy, dense evergreen conifers, trees and shrubs work very well – a great example of this is mature ivy. 

If you’ve already got a bird box out in your garden that’s not getting any attention, there may be a few changes you need to make. 

First of all, you should take into account the food your garden supplies. Only certain birds will nest in boxes, so if you haven’t left out any peanuts or sunflower hearts for bluetits and coaltits, suet for woodpeckers and nuthatches, that’s where you need to start. 

Another aspect to take into consideration is the type of boxes certain bird species would like (they’re very fussy). Bluetits and coaltits prefer smaller boxes with small entry holes for maximum security and warmth, while robins are more likely to use open-fronted nest boxes. 

As always, make sure your bird box is somewhere in your garden where birds will feel safe!

If you follow a combination of these steps, you’re sure to make your yard as bird friendly as possible. The crucial point to remember when attracting birds to your garden is to ensure the food you leave out, the water you offer up and nest boxes you provide are all free of danger, making the birds feel as secure as they can.