Here’s How You Can Attract Birds
In this episode, we’re going to look at how to attract birds to your property. There is something special about getting to see and hear birds just out your window. To step out and hear them singing and then see them dancing around your shrubs and trees. Birds are a core part of an abundant landscape. Let’s look at what it takes to attract them.
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Often when people want to attract birds they put up a bird feeder. But this will only go so far.
Birds also need cover and water.
A bird feeder out in the middle of a field with no cover and no water will attract far fewer birds than the same feeder with some nearby shrubs, trees, and a source of water right next to it.
And a feeder isn’t even the best way to provide food for birds.
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If you want to support a diversity of songbirds then you got to support the insects they rely on to feed their young.
Chickadees for example will feed 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to their young to get them from hatching to fledgling.
Without the insects, you won’t have the birds.
If you want to attract birds you’ve got to give them cover, food and water. And a feeder isn’t enough.
Let’s look at the best ways to provide birds the cover, food, and water they need.
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People like you, who want to bring these skills home, to enjoy wildlife, grow more food, and help heal our living world.
Okay, let’s get started.
Further Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
- 3 Things Your Garden Needs to Attract Birds
- Why Native Plants Matter (And Why You Need Them)
- How to Find Native Plants for Your Property
- What is a Hedgerow and Why You Should Plant One
- How to Start a Hedgerow (5 Steps)
- Why Snags are Awesome (And How to Get Started)
- How to Create Habitat Features for Pest Control
Books and Other Resources
- Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard
- Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded
- The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife (How to Create a Sustainable and Ethical Garden that Promotes Native Wildlife, Plants, and Biodiversity)
- Native Plant Finder – National Wildlife Federation – Good for looking up native plants based on how many butterflies and moths they support.
- Audubon Society – Native Plants Database
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
A Story of Picky Insects – Attracting Birds with Native Plants
The first time I read that it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to feed the young from one chickadee nest it was hard to imagine how that was possible.
Especially when most songbirds also rely on similar numbers of caterpillars to feed their young.
How are there that many caterpillars?
The first thing I had to learn was that caterpillars are often small. Most don’t get very big and they’re very good at hiding.
They often hide during the day and come out at night.
Makes you feel sorry for the birds—their almost frantic dashing through our hedgerows makes a lot more sense when you know they need to catch hundreds of caterpillars every day.
And that is the key—you’ve got to create the habitat for the caterpillars to attract birds.
We’ve done this through our hedgerows and thickets. But even a standalone tree can help—but it has to be the right type of tree.
It needs to be a native tree.
Let me explain.
One night I went out with my headlamp to look at some of our native cascara trees. The leaves of these trees had been being eaten by something but I couldn’t find the culprit during the day.
So I was out at night with my headlamp staring at the leaves.
And what I saw were a bunch of little green caterpillars.
Now I’m not a bug expert but I took a lot of pictures and eventually I was able to ID the caterpillar. It turns out they were all the caterpillars for the American tissue moth.
This little unremarkable moth—one of the thousands that are out there. But this little moth just like the monarch is reliant on very specific plants for its caterpillars.
In this case the cascara tree and just a couple of other native trees including our native hawthorn.
And the tissue moth and the monarch aren’t unique in being so picky. Most plant-eating insects—roughly 90%—are picky.
They can only feed on a few specific types of plants that they’ve co-evolved with. Most of the time that means native plants.
If I had planted non-native ornamental trees instead of the cascara we wouldn’t have any American tissue moths.
And not just the tissue moths—a single cascara tree can support 20 different species of picky caterpillars.
But our willows are far better at this—willows support 339 different species of picky caterpillars.
Because 90% of plant-eating insects are picky and rely on a handful of native plants you can’t support these insects with non-native plants.
And without those picky caterpillars, you won’t have birds.
So the first thing you can do if you want to attract birds is to plant native plants.
Providing Cover for Birds
And while your planting those native plants consider planting them close together so they form thickets or hedges. In next week’s episode, we will take a look at hedgerows and how you can get started with them.
On our property, we’ve got over 300-feet of hedgerows planted and hundreds more planned.
But even 2 or 3 native shrubs along with a couple of native trees planted together can form a dense thicket.
These thickets can provide birds cover for nesting and protection from predators. They can even protect birds from the rain and provide shelter from the summer heat and the winter chill.
Especially if you add a couple of evergreens to the mix—plants that keep their leaves through the winter.
We always see birds in our hedgerows—they love to dance through them looking for food or just taking shelter.
One of my favorite memories was watching a hummingbird taking a bath in a small pool of water that had collected on the leaf of one of our native Osoberries.
These days we always have hummingbirds buzzing around our hedgerows along with an ever-increasing number of other birds.
We had some quail show up for the first time just this year.
Without cover, birds won’t feel safe spending time on your property so if you want to attract birds make sure to plant some native shrubs and trees including a few evergreens. And if possible plant them close together so they form a thicket when fully grown.
And don’t forget to check out next week’s episode all about hedgerows.
Providing Water for Birds
The last thing you need to do to attract birds is to provide them a source of water. This is one of the easiest steps to take.
A birdbath can go a long way to providing water for birds.
Just make sure to keep it clean and filled up—they can go dry quickly in the summer months.
And if you’ve got space consider building a small wildlife pond.
On the north side of our kitchen garden, we’ve put in a small wildlife pond filled with native plants along with a native meadow planted around it. I’ve also added a bunch of logs, rocks, and even a couple of snags.
The result is a fantastic little water feature that birds and other wildlife just love. I often see birds visiting it to get a drink and take a bath.
And if you’ve got some naturally wet areas on your property you could turn these into wetlands that will support birds and other wildlife.
Water is key to supporting all wildlife—not just birds.
We’ve got our wildlife pond along with some restored wetlands that ducks and even herons visit. But in our front yard, we’ve also got a simple little birdbath.
We made it by sitting a large ceramic base for a pot on a small round piece of wood. It’s tucked in amongst a bunch of native plants, a couple of snags, and a pile of logs that birds love to run across to go to and from the birdbath.
Birds visit it constantly throughout the spring and summer months.
Whether you’ve got room for ponds or just a small birdbath providing water will attract birds to where you live.
Attract Birds by Creating a Bird Paradise
If you want to attract birds to your property then you’ve got to provide them with:
- And water
But don’t forget to also plant native plants. Songbirds need caterpillars to feed to their young and the caterpillars need native plants.
Without native plants, you will have far fewer caterpillars and far fewer birds.
And the caterpillars the birds don’t get will become butterflies and moths—I know I would be quite sad if my property didn’t have butterflies and moths flittering about.
This just goes to show how interconnected nature is. When you plant native plants, you support insects, which in turn support birds and other wildlife.
And the same hedges that support birds will also support other wildlife.
This is how you cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife—by providing habitat (food, cover, and water) for all wildlife.
If you want to get started try planting a couple of native shrubs and perhaps a small native tree. Plant them together so they’ll form a thicket when mature.
Add some logs and rocks and place a birdbath next to them.
Try adding a birdhouse on one of the snags or a post.
The result will be a little bird paradise filled with caterpillars, water, and cover. It won’t take long for the birds to start showing up.
And don’t stop there—the more you can do the better and the more birds you will attract.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will look at hedgerows and how you can get started with them.
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