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Creating Bird-friendly Habitats

Like any animal, birds need food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. The entire set of these needs defines the habitat. Every species has its own habitat requirements, so the more variety you can create in your yard the more birds you may see in it.

Take a bird's-eye look at your backyard. Does it provide those things? If not, there are plants you can grow and many other ways you can enhance your landscape to make it more bird-friendly without investing a fortune or changing your way of life.


Birdhouse habitatFor seed-eating birds, the easiest thing is just put out a few bird feeders. The more different types of seed you put out, the greater variety of birds you will attract. You can also landscape with seed and berry bearing plants which are native in your area.

Many birds don't eat seeds, but do eat insects. If you or your neighbors spray pesticides, you are eliminating these birds' food supply— destroying their habitat— and possibly even poisoning them, too. It is hard to put out insects in feeders, but many insect eating birds will eat suet. Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are common at suet feeders in much of North America. Mealworms are another option. They are big and tasty and you can feed them in a simple screen feeder. A screen feeder is just a rectangular frame with window screen (vinyl or stainless steel) stretched over the bottom of it.

Bird FeederWater

Water is vital to all life. When the weather is dry, a bird bath can be a life-saving oasis which will attract many birds. They like to bathe in it as well as drink it, so be sure and clean it often. Or you can incorporate a pump and filter into your bird bath and it will double as a pleasant sounding water feature in your yard. Whether you buy, or build yourself, consider that a bird bath should mimic a mud puddle in shape if not in size. Mud puddles are very shallow and have very gradually sloped bottoms. Too many bird baths are so steep-sided that the birds are afraid to use them. 1.5" deep is about the right maximum depth.

Bird HousesShelter

Shelter requirements vary from species to species. In the spring and summer, reproducing is every bird's objective and each species has its own preferred nesting habitat. Leaving a corner of your yard unattended and brushy may provide nesting sites for wrens, goldfinches, hummingbirds, and many others. Leave a dead tree standing and woodpeckers will show up to feed on the termites living in it and may hollow out a nest cavity. Some birds, like chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, and others will nest in a man-made nesting box. Most birds will not. When placing a nest box it is important to consider the nesting habitat of the bird you wish to attract. Look at your yard and see what is available. It would be futile to put up a box for chickadees on a pole in the middle of a field, but a tree swallow may look at that same box and think it had just found the Ritz.

Winter birds need shelter, too. Some birds, like chickadees and nuthatches, will roost in former nesting cavities or boxes to get out of the weather. Many birds will crawl into dense shrubs or perch next to the trunk of an evergreen tree with tight branches. If you live in an area with fairly predictable prevailing winds, put some shelter plants on the lee side of your house for the birds to roost in.

Places to raise young

Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs provide nesting areas for birds. Dead and dying trees (called "snags") provide nesting sites for many species such as owls, flying squirrels, and other cavity-nesters.

Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes, and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log, or mulch piles.

Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and purple martins can be placed in your backyard.

Read also: Plants for wild birds

See also: Deciduous trees