Gardening for the Birds

July 20, 2017
Robin and Berries

Here are five tips for making your backyard more bird-friendly. It takes more than just hanging a feeder or two. Small birds eat constantly during the day and they need to be able to find food 365 days a year. 

And why do we want our feathered friends to visit?

  • First, just being outside in the garden surrounded by birdsong is a wonderful way to spend the day. Listening to the chirping chickadees and loud laughing call of the pileated woodpecker while watching the goldfinches swoop from plant to plant gives me a restful break from the craziness of the world and reinforces an important connection to nature.
  • Birds offer us some tangible help as well. A single swallow can eat hundreds of bugs in an afternoon. By inviting insect-eating birds to our yards we can help reduce the pests that attack our gardens and us!

Take a look at your garden from a bird’s point of view. Here are five tips:

  1. Along with natural foods such as seeds, fruits, berries, and nectar, your garden offers an abundance of tasty insects, caterpillars, worms, and spiders. The more diverse your plantings the more kinds of birds you will attract.
  2. In addition to a ready supply of food and clean water, birds need places to hide and nest. Pines and densely needled conifers block the wind, supply cover in bad weather, and offer protection from predators. They become ideal nesting places in the spring. 
  3. In terms of bird-friendly trees: Natives like oak, cedar, birch, maple, choke cherry, and serviceberry provide insects, seeds, and fruit along with shelter and nest sites. Plantings of ornamental crabapples and cherries, mulberry, holly, and mountain ash will draw flocks of birds to their flowers and berries.
  4. Native shrubs are especially attractive, offering food suited to the birds in your area and adding another layer of cover under taller trees. See our list of best shrubs and trees for birds.
  5. There are many perennials and annuals that are ideal for birdscaping. The way a plant presents its seeds is a good indicator of how easy it will be for birds to swoop in for a quick snack. Plants that have open-faced flowers or bloom on an upright stalk have seeds that are readliy accessible.
  6. Once we have lured the birds to our yards we have to be sensitive to their needs. Eliminate the risk of poisoning them by gardening organically.

You may have to delay pruning if a family of robins decides to nest in your forsythia. Instead of diligently deadheading every fading flower, allow seed heads to stand for the birds to eat. Let your yard grow a little wild to provide areas of shelter. As long as they pose no danger to people or property let dead trees stand. They give cavity-nesting birds a place to call home and provide insects and grubs for other birds to eat.

Birds will reward your efforts by helping to control insects, garden pests, and mosquitoes. By planting a variety of food sources for each season, you will create a year-round haven for our feathered friends and prove that gardening is really for the birds!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.