Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Attract Songbirds to Your Garden

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Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden

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Creating a bird-friendly environment is simply a matter of providing the creature comforts we all crave: food and shelter. Also, think about the late summer and fall—and what to leave in the garden for the birds!

Best Plants With Food for Birds

Understanding a bird’s preferences will help you determine which plants to grow. Different plants will provide for different needs, whether that bounty is in the form of seeds, fruits, nuts, or nectar. Plants also act as hosts for many caterpillars and insects, which are another important source of food for birds. A garden filled with a mixture of plants producing flowers, seeds, berries, and nuts will always attract the largest number and variety of birds.

  • Seed-eating birds, including goldfinches, chickadees, and towhees, will seek out seed heads from an assortment of flowering plants and ornamental grasses. Any daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, asters, and black–eyed Susans, in addition to rudbeckias, zinnias, and echinaceas, would be good choices.
  • Finches, sparrows, and nuthatches are a few of the birds that will flock to marigolds, cosmos, coreopsis, goldenrod, phlox, and a wide selection of salvias.
  • Hummingbirds are happy with nectar from bee balm, geraniums, veronicas, delphiniums, and penstemons.

Remember, too, that birds are attracted to seasonal food. They will stay longer in your garden if it contains plants that flower or fruit at different times of the year.

  • Hollies and roses provide winter fruit.
  • Serviceberries and chokecherries offer late–spring berries.
  • Blueberries and mulberries bear summer fruit.
  • Honeysuckle and pyracantha round out the fruit season in the fall.


Best Plants With Shelter for Birds

Plants that provide shelter—a safe haven from predators, protective cover from harsh weather, or a cozy spot, whether to nest or just settle in for the night—appeal to just about any bird, regardless of food preference. But a plant that provides food and shelter says, “Come on in.”

  • Pine trees provide evergreen shelter that is enjoyed by many birds. They also produce nourishing pine seeds favored by chickadees.
  • Low-growing junipers not only hide birds from imminent danger, but also offer an insect buffet for ground–insect feeders such as wrens, towhees, and juncos, in addition to providing a bevy of berries for titmice and waxwings.
  • Some vines and shrubs (like Virginia creeper, clematis, service berry, and privet) are also multifunctional plants. Towhees, larks, and sparrows enjoy the seed heads of their spent flowers, while fruit-eating birds such as robins, thrushes, and tanagers gorge on their berries. These vines and shrubs also provide a safe haven.

As you develop your garden, consider grouping your plants in layers. You’ll be creating a multilevel habitat of food and shelter for a variety of birds, whether they feed on the ground, in trees and bushes, or in the air.

  • Include fruit-bearing shrubs, deciduous trees, and evergreens of all heights in your upper layers.
  • At ground level, consider planting ground covers as well as petite perennials and annuals.
  • Fill the layers in between with perennials, annuals, ornamental grasses, and low-growing shrubs.

What to Leave in the Garden in Fall

In fall, don’t be in a rush to tidy up all of nature! 

  1. Leave some extra leaves on the ground, just as nature wood. It’s a natural mulch, reducing unwanted weed growth, protecting plant roots from extreme temperatures, and retaining moisture in the soil. Plus, this natural leaf mulch also serves as a perfect habitat for insects and wildlife that birds eat!
  2. Leaving the seed heads of flowers and grasses, like echinacea, rudbeckia, and sunflowers, give foods another source of food. Don’t deadhead all your annuals and perennials too early in the fall!
  3. Unless your home is in danger, leave dead trees standing just as nature would. There are many purposes in nature for dead trees including nesting and storing food. Also, dead tree feed the entire forest food web, especially insects which feed birds.

When it all comes together, your garden just may become a bird’s favorite place to be!

About The Author

Jennifer Keating

Jennifer is the Associate Digital Editor at The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She is an active equestrian and spends much of her free time at the barn. When she’s not riding, she loves caring for her collection of house plants, baking, and playing in her gardens. Read More from Jennifer Keating

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