Build a Bird Sanctuary in Your Backyard
To make your home an inviting sanctuary for birds, you’ll need to create places for them to wash, nest, feed, and drink. Following are some suggestions for providing birdhouses, feeders, and birdbaths:
Attract Birds with Bird Baths
Birds are most comfortable with a rough-surfaced source of water about 2 feet wide, no more than 2 inches deep. A shallow dish or bowl placed on the ground is adequate, or a plastic or terra cotta plant dish or inverted metal trash lid will work nicely. Put the bath out in the open, not close to shrubs or places where cats can hide. A thorny bush or protective brush pile may also make the birds feel more secure.
Bird Homes for Attracting Birds to your Backyard
Many people are not aware of the value of dead, dying, and hollow trees, and logs on the ground. Dead trees provide homes to more than 400 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Fish, plants, and fungi can also benefit from dead and dying trees. Consider leaving standing dead and dying trees in your yard unless they pose a safety hazard, and use old logs and stumps in your garden and for landscaping. If suitable natural nesting habitats such as old trees are in short supply, build or buy a birdhouse and install it out of reach of cats, squirrels, and other predators.
The size of the entrance hole is critical to prevent the eggs and young from being destroyed by larger birds.
All bird species have specific nesting requirements. Because of these requirements, your yard may not accommodate certain species. For example, the Eastern bluebird prefers to nest in sites that border open fields or lawns with a tree or fence post nearby to provide feeding perches. Chickadees prefer to nest in brushy, wooded areas.
Prior to setting out any nesting houses, research which species are common in your area. Make or buy a bird house specifically designed for the bird you wish to attract. The size of the entrance hole is critical to prevent the eggs and young from being destroyed by larger birds. Always check a list of appropriate hole sizes. Other factors to consider are i box size, height above the ground, direction the entrance hole faces, and amount of sunlight. Boxes may need baffles or other protective devices to limit access by cats and other predators.
Feeders that Attract Birds
Many species of birds can be attracted by a variety of feed in different styles of feeders. There are many styles of bird feeders available, from window-mounted feeders to those that hang from branches and stands, or you can make your own feeders out of plastic bottles or milk cartons and hang them from safe places, such as a clothesline. Many birds will readily eat right off the ground.
Feeder type, placement and the type of food can help deter unwanted species.
Bird feed comes in a variety of choices. Sunflower seeds appeal to many birds, as well as small mammals. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are especially attracted to suet. Citrus fruit, chopped apples and bananas, and raisins will be eaten by numerous species, including robins, titmouse, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds.
Feeders may also attract wildlife species you may not want to feed such as starlings, crows, and squirrels. Feeder type, placement and the type of food can help deter unwanted species.
If you prefer to grow your own bird food, consider planting native wildflowers, shrubs, and sunflowers. Cultivated flowers are also attractive to some birds, particularly goldfinches, house finches, juncos, white-throated sparrows, and hummingbirds.
Plant Species for Attracting Birds
Birds eat any flower seed, depending on the kind of bird and seed. Following are some plant species to consider for your bird habitat. Be sure to check with your local nursery on plants that are suitable for your area. Some of these plants may have characteristics such as shallow roots or weak limbs that make them inappropriate for small urban properties, or they may not be winter hardy in all locations.
Trees that Attract Birds
- American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
- American holly (Ilex opaca)
- Balsam fir (Abies balsamea)
- Black cherry (Prunus serotina)
- Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
- Crabapple (Malus spp.)
- Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
- Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.)
- Hickories (Carya spp.)
- Live oak (Quercus virginiana)
- Oaks (Quercus spp.)
- Red mulberry (Morus rubra)
Shrubs that Attract Birds
- Common juniper (Juniperus communis)
- Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)
- Hollies—both evergreen and deciduous species (Ilex spp.)
- Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp.)
- Red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
- Sumacs (Rhus spp.)
- Viburnums (Viburnum spp.)
- Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
Vines that Attract Birds
- American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
- Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens and related spp.)
- Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)
- Trumpet creeper or vine (Campis radicans)
- Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
- Wild grape (Vitis spp.)
Nectar Plants that Attract Hummingbirds
- Aster (Aster spp.)
- Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
- Bee balm (Monarda spp.)
- Butterfly bush (Buddleia alternifolia)
- Butterfly weed and other milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
- Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Clover and other legumes
- Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
- Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
- Delphinium (Delphinium spp.)
- Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.)
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
- Jewel weed (Impatiens capensis or I. pallida)
- Lobelia (Lobelia spp.)
- Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
- Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)
- Phlox (Phlox spp.)
- Salvia (Salvia spp.)
- Trumpet creeper or vine (Campis radicans)
- Weigela (Weigela spp.)
- Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)
Drinking water for Attracting Birds
Clean, fresh water is as important to birds, bats, butterflies, and other wildlife as it is for people. Water in a saucer, bird bath, or backyard pond is adequate. Be sure to change the water every few days to keep it fresh. In hot weather, you may need to refill the container daily. Logs, rocks, and water-holding structures can provide drinking and basking habitat for songbirds.
Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, skunks, woodchucks, mice, and deer are commonly found in many urban environments. These species are highly adaptable and, in many cases, can become unwanted visitors rather than welcome guests.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and mice will readily eat birdseed. Raccoons will feed on suet.
Food set out for birds may attract many of these animals. Squirrels, chipmunks, and mice will readily eat birdseed. Raccoons will feed on suet. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat a variety of vegetation including garden vegetables and flowering plants. Deer are browsers and will nibble at trees, shrubs, hay, and grain.
A few precautions can be taken if you wish to avoid attracting these animals. Avoid setting out food that may attract scavengers such as raccoons. Keep garbage cans in a secure shed or garage, or use metal cans that scavengers cannot chew through. Check the exterior of your house for loose or rotted boards that could allow access by mice or other rodents.
Certify Your Backyard as a Wildlife Sanctuary
After you have followed Sage’s How-to Attract Birds Guide and our other How to Attract Wildlife Guides to providing habitat to attract birds and other wildlife to your backyard, you can certify your backyard as a wildlife sanctuary. As long as you are providing the four basics for habitat specified in the Sage How-to Attract Wildlife Guides, including food, water, shelter and a place to live, you qualify.
Along with a personalized certificate, you will receive a Backyard Wildlife Habitat sign to post in your yard. This sign is a great way to show your neighbors and community that you’re working to attract birds and other wildlife and provide a natural habitat for all the animals that visit and live in your yard. Your backyard will also be entered in the National Registry of Backyard Wildlife Habitat Sites.
For an application to certify your backyard bird sanctuary as a wildlife sanctuary, please visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Application for Certification.