Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat

By Kris Wetherbee
February 18, 2017
Hummingbird and Plant

Creating a bird-friendly environment is simply a matter of providing the creature comforts we all crave: food, protective cover, and a cozy spot for raising a family.

A diversity of trees, shrubs, and other plants, as well as ground covers and vines, offers a complete package for backyard bird habitation. Invite birds into your backyard and start enjoying a front-row view of nature’s winged wonders.


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, as well as for a host of plant-munching caterpillars and insects. A garden filled with a mixture of plants producing flowers, seeds, berries, and nuts will always attract the largest number and variety of birds.

  • For example, 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.

  • For example, 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.



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 enjoyed by many birds as well as 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.

(See Related Articles above for a list of great Shrubs and Trees for Birds.)

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


Adapted from an article in The 2005 Old Farmer's Almanac

Reader Comments

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how do you feed birds?

how exactly do you feed birds?

I'm moving into a new place,

I'm moving into a new place, and I don't know what type of birds there are. How do I find out before buying seeds?

A good source would be a

The Editors's picture

A good source would be a local birdwatching club, nature center, or local store that provides wild bird seed. You can also check the ranges of various birds on online birdwatching sites or in bird field guides. Also, you might search online for "bird checklists" and your state, province, or country to find some useful information.

I am moving into a new home

I am moving into a new home and the neighbor keeps a fake owl on the fence that separates our yards out back, which upsets me because I love bird feeding. I'm sure they have their reasons and I'll try to respect that despite the fact that their yard is very small and consists of only a pool and nothing else. Could I still be able to attract birds to our front yard?

Most of the information we

The Editors's picture

Most of the information we have come across is that birds acclimate to devices such as balloons, tape, and plastic owls in a fairly short time (not specifics on that). Noise seems to be one consistently reliable way to keep birds away—but we will not tell your neighbor. However, if we may add this counsel, perhaps you should talk with your neighbor and try to better understand their concern? You may, over time, show them that feeding the birds can help to keep them out of their property and in yours.

I have a female cardinal that

I have a female cardinal that has been attacking my windows for the past two weeks. All day, every day. Im afraid she is going to eventually hurt herself. How can I deter her from this?

Cardinals (both male and

The Editors's picture

Cardinals (both male and female) may peck at windows if they see their reflection, thinking it is another of their species. They are trying to defend their territory, especially during breeding/nesting. If you can, make your windows less reflective. You can try a number of things during this season, such as:
* putting up window screens
* soaping the outside of the window
* closing the curtain or pulling down the shades
* hanging a decoration or sticking a decal on the window
* temporarily adhering translucent plastic wrap to the interior of the window (be careful of children and pets), or using decorative window film
* placing several strips of masking tape on the window
* using stickers of silhouettes of hawks or other predators
* installing anti-glare window coverings on the exterior

You can also try moving any birdfeeders, etc., that you may have further away from the house.

Now if I can just get my

Now if I can just get my husband to agree to growing these things I would have a bird haven.

How does one prevent ants

How does one prevent ants from getting into the hummingbird feeder?

What I do is spray the feeder

What I do is spray the feeder plus whatever you have it hanging with is Pam or any kind of cooking spray.

I use hanging cups made by

I use hanging cups made by the manufacturers of feeders.You keep them filled with water and they hang over the feeder. They definitely work for me.

A little glob of Vaseline® on

A little glob of Vaseline® on top of the feeder (where the wire ties on) has worked very well for me… and it only needs to be refreshed every couple years (even here in the rainy Pacific Northwest).

I live in Michigan's Upper

I live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and an old coworker's rule was: "Put the feeders out after Memorial Day, and bring them in after Labor Day." And that seems to be right on. The hummers I've seen come looking for where the feeders hung the previous year, if I don't have them out yet! And taking them in after Labor Day stops you from worrying about preventing freezing. They seemed to really hit the feeders hard the last couple of weeks in birds!

I was wondering, I live in

I was wondering, I live in Maryland, do hummingbirds migrate? Or should I attempt to feed them all year long? How do you keep the liquid from freezing? HELP. Thanks, Donna S.

Hummingbirds in my area

Hummingbirds in my area (central Kentucky) are strictly warm weather birds, arriving in mid to late June, and staying until the end of August, or until the first cool nights send them south to a warmer climate. As ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species of the bird east of the Mississippi River, I'm sure that the same conditions apply in Maryland, where your weather is very similar to ours.

Bring in your feeders the

Bring in your feeders the second week in October. By then the migrants are gone. Clean feeders and store until the azaleas bloom in spring.

Hi I live in Oregon and not

Hi I live in Oregon and not all hummingbirds migrate so i leave them out all year plus the one's that do migrate don't do it all at the same time so it's wise to leave them out so the passer buys can have some food for their trip.

Hi Donna, Try

Hi Donna,
Try People report hummingbirds at their feeders. It will give all the info you need. Enjoy!!