Birds add a lively element to the garden, and attracting them to your landscape is easy if you’re a good host or hostess. What you have on the menu and the quality of your provided lodging determines whether your yard is alive with the sound of chirping and singing.
“You don’t need to be a bird expert to get them to flock to your yard,” says Elaine Cole, president and owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co. “With very little knowledge and effort you can attract a lot of birds to visit your yard.”
Follow these steps to setting up a backyard bird sanctuary.
Cole's Wild Bird Products Co
Keep your feeders well-stocked.
A full "kitchen" attracts loads of birds to your landscape. This is especially important during the winter months when food is scarce for your feathered friends. “Keep your feeders full,” says Cole. “That way neighborhood birds keep your yard on their ‘go by and visit’ list, and migrating birds just passing through will notice all the feeding activity going on at your feeders and make a pit stop.”
Offer a varied menu.
“Wild birds are surprisingly picky eaters, and certain birds favor certain types of food,” says Cole. Warblers, woodpeckers, catbirds, as well as non-seed eating birds, love to eat suet and dried or fresh fruit, while cardinals like safflower seed and goldfinches want niger/thistle seed. If you wish to put out just one type of seed to attract the widest variety of birds, feed them a sunflower seed mix.
Try various bird feeders.
Another way to ensure a variety of birds in your yard is to put out different types of feeders, because not all wild birds feed the same way. “Tube feeders attract almost all perch feeding birds, while wooden feeders resembling miniature pavilions work well for birds like cardinals, robins, chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers,” says Cole. “Bowl feeders are a good place to put things like mealworms, fruit and nuts for non-seed eating birds. And window feeders bring nature up close to the house, making it possible to easily enjoy bird watching from indoors.”
If you want birds to stick around, it’s important to provide them locations where they can seek shelter and nest. Good options include trees and large shrubs and birdhouses. Some species, like wrens, will nest in just about anything, including hanging flower baskets or even canvas bags, says Cole.
Make peace with squirrels.
If you’re going to feed the birds, face the fact that squirrels will also probably come to dine. To keep them from eating your bird food, use a squirrel-proof feeder or squirrel guard and/or put out food for just for them, such as corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
To turn the squirrels off to your bird feed, use food they find distasteful, such as safflower seed, which is bitter to squirrels but favored by a variety of birds. Or add a hot pepper additive to your seed.
“It is a well-known and established fact that mammals such as squirrels find hot peppers unpalatable in the wild, while birds do not taste the heat at all, and hot birdseed even attracts more birds,” says Cole.
Birds can’t resist running or moving water. If you don’t live near a creek or stream, install a pond or fountain, or put a miniature water sprinkler/spritzer into your birdbath to create a moving water sound and motion.
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Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of seven books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story Series, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.