University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring, Summer News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

A well-planned landscape can be the key to attracting birds to your backyard. If you provide the proper habitat, including food, water, shelter, and a place to nest, you will be rewarded with a backyard of birds, who in return will entertain you with song and help keep the insect population under control.

Your first task is to do some research to find out which birds you can expect to spot in your area. Check your local library or wild bird center for information. Once you compile your list, note whether or not birds are ground feeders, the kinds of food they eat, the shelter they need, the nesting sites they prefer, and their choice of water sources. With this in mind, here are some rules of thumb for attracting birds.

Plan a landscape using a variety of plants. The greater the variety of plants, the greater the number of birds and other wildlife that will come into the garden.

Hummingbirds, for example, are attracted to red flowers, such as bee balm, although you also may wish to fill a hummingbird feeder with a sugar-water mixture. The food is available commercially, or you can make your own. Use only pure, white sugar and not honey, however, as the latter is lethal to these tiny birds.

For other birds, include plants that produce fruit and those that host insects since birds will consume insects along with the fruit. The greater the number of options, the greater the number of birds.

Birds prefer landscapes that have "edges" or spaces where trees and shrubs border open spaces. Many birds like to feed in open areas but need protective cover to roost, nest, and raise their young. If you plant a thorny shrub, for example, you provide not only perches but protection from predators.

Design a garden that provides year-round food. In summer and fall, this means flowers for nectar and berries for food. At other times, you need to use feeders filled with sunflower seeds, thistle, and other seeds.

Add evergreen and deciduous plants to provide nesting sites, perching places, and protection. Winter birds prefer evergreens like holly and junipers, which provide shelter and food. Locate these plants close to feeding stations.

In addition to feeders, you may want to include birdhouses and birdbaths in your landscape plan. To attract woodpeckers, you'll need a ready supply of suet as well as logs on the ground or standing dead trees for food (they're insect eaters) and nesting. Although you probably won't want a dead tree in your planned landscape, if you have one on the edge of your property, leave it standing for the birds.

Design your landscape with the climate in mind. Birds, like people, need shade and protection against rain and wind. In winter, they need protection from snow, sleet, and wind. Locate feeding stations in protected pockets, such as between plants, plants and buildings, or other similar areas.

Be sure to treat each bird species as an individual. Birds, like humans, visualize the environment primarily through sight and sound. It is best to design a site with multiple attractions--food, cover, climate modification, perching sites, and water.

Include some bare ground rather than all grass, ground cover, or mulch. Birds need grit and places they can take a dust bath, which helps them rid their feathers of mites and other parasites. Provide water, whether a birdbath, stream, fountain, or pool.

Finally, don't expect overnight success in attracting birds. They are wild creatures and not always easy to predict. They must check out your landscape, evaluate its merits, and decide whether it's safe to stay in the area. Remember, too, that as your landscape matures, it will attract different bird species.

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