4 Things You Need to Attract Birds to Your Garden

Wondering how to attract birds to your garden? When you stop to think about it, birds are a lot like people in that they need many of the same things to survive and thrive. Food, water, shelter and community are all critical components of the ecosystem in which they live. If your landscape is lacking any of the four, you are less likely to see many birds. But if you can provide all four components year-round, many birds will happily make your garden their home.

Let’s look at those four essential pieces a little more closely.

Ilex verticillata Berry Poppins w birds_Spring Meadow web
Robins enjoying winterberry holly berries. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs.

During the breeding months of spring to early summer, birds rely primarily on insects and worms to feed their young. Baby birds can eat their weight in food every single day, so mother birds are constantly feeding them. Leave some leaf litter and natural spaces in your landscape where birds can hunt for a plentiful supply of insects and be sure to limit your use of insecticides, especially during this time of year. 

During the summer, birds can usually find plenty of food on their own, but come fall and winter, they’ll happily accept some support from you. Leave some spent perennial blooms like coneflowers, sedum and false sunflowers that provide seeds during this time when natural food sources are becoming more limited. Many native and berry-producing shrubs including winterberries, blue holly, junipers, beautyberry, viburnum, elderberry, coralberry and chokeberry can also help to sustain birds until insects return in the spring.   

american robin in birdbath_stock photo

Having access to clean water to drink, bathe and cool off in is critical to keeping birds healthy. Bird baths, ponds, pondless water features and fountains will draw them in—even more so if the water is kept moving. That movement will help to limit algae and mosquito larvae from spoiling all the fun. Set a reminder on your calendar to clean out your water feature each week. Stop by our retail garden center to see the colorful bird baths we stock every year. 

bird in lilac bush_stock photo

If you stood in an open field that was surrounded by trees, where would you see or hear the birds? In the trees, of course! Birds have to constantly be aware of predators, and the list of them is long. The primary enemy of birds is feral and domestic cats, but raccoons, squirrels, deer, coyotes, foxes, snakes and bigger birds also prey on small birds.

To make birds feel safe in your landscape, you’ll need to provide shelter for them. Evergreen trees and shrubs as well as densely branched deciduous shrubs offer a place to hide from predators, somewhere to nest, and protection from inclement weather. Birds can also duck into ornamental grasses, larger-sized perennials and birdhouses when they need to make a quick getaway. 

Consider growing these plants to provide shelter for birds:

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The expression “birds of a feather flock together” is a perfect way of describing their social behavior. In fact, scientists who have studied birds have found that some have a social structure that’s as complex as monkeys and some other primates. They have evolved over time with other members of their species and have learned to form social relationships with one another to survive and thrive. 

When birds live in community with one another, they can better stake out and hold their territories, fend off prey, find mates for breeding, and prevent straying during migration. If you are only providing a small place that birds can shelter in and minimal food and water resources, you won’t be able to support a community of feathered friends. Instead, you’ll likely only see them passing through to eat from your feeder now and then. 

To foster a community of birds in your landscape, find a few places—maybe along your lot line or clustered together in your backyard and side yard—where you can group multiple large shrubs and/or small trees together. Hedges also work great for providing a place for birds to congregate. Learn how to choose shrubs for hedges in this blog. And find our best evergreens for privacy hedges here.

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