Landscaping for Birds

ruby throated hummingbird © David Larson, Mass Audubon
ruby throated hummingbird © David Larson, Mass Audubon

You can easily convert an outdoor space—large or small—into a bird-friendly landscape by adding a few important habitat elements. The benefits of creating an avian haven may surprise you: not only will you attract birds, but you’ll also make your property more inviting for people and animals.

Why Landscape for Birds?

Here are three good reasons to create a welcoming place for wildlife:

You’ll see more birds.

Many of us use feeders to attract birds. By providing additional places for birds to take shelter and nest, you’ll keep them around, so that there’s so much more to observe and enjoy.

You’ll help save wildlife.

One quarter of the land in Massachusetts is residential development. Turning yards, gardens, and parks into bird-friendly landscapes adds important habitat to these areas, and could help save backyard birds like house wrens, whose numbers are declining in the state.

You’ll benefit people, too.

A bird-friendly yard is an inviting place for you to sit and relax, and for kids to explore and learn. By preserving natural diversity, you’ll be helping to protect your community’s resources.

How to Landscape for Birds

The key to bird-friendly landscaping is to look at what birds need across all parts of their life:

Food

Different types of birds need different foods, from buds to seeds to insects to nectar, and their diets often vary throughout the year. To attract a variety of species, give birds plenty of choices. For example, try planting native oaks, dogwoods, and hollies, as well as nectar sources like purple coneflower. Check out our plant chart or contact your local garden center.

 

Water

Fresh water is essential for both drinking and bathing. Install a birdbath (on the ground, or on a pedestal if predators are frequent), and clean it regularly using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Make sure to rinse the bath thoroughly before refilling.

Many birdbaths are made too deep. Small birds prefer shallow water (i.e., anything under 2 inches). To rectify this, add gravel to the bath or place a small branch in the water with one end resting on the rim and the other in the water so that birds can move along the branch to the water depth they prefer.

In winter, you can keep the water from freezing by either refilling often or using a bath heater. Never use glycerin, which is toxic if ingested and can destroy the insulating properties of feathers. Learn more about birdbaths and how to maintain them.

If space permits, a small in-ground pond in the corner of the yard, with plenty of protective cover around it, is the most attractive to birds. Small pumps can be purchased to circulate the water since moving water has been proven to be especially attractive to birds.

Cover

Birds need protection from weather and predators. Provide cover with low shrubs and dense plants like evergreens. To create many places to hide, balance large trees with smaller shrubs, and evergreens with deciduous plants. You can also construct brush piles from plant clippings.

Cats Indoors

Keep your yard wildlife friendly by keeping your cat indoors. It’s better for wildlife, and better the cats, too.

Nesting sites

A mix of plants will help different species find their preferred nesting spots. When it’s safe, leave dead trees and branches in place for cavity nesters like woodpeckers and bluebirds. If you’re using birdhouses, try installing several sizes and locations. You’ll be rewarded with a lively mix of birds.

Want to find out more? We’ve got plenty of books about bird-friendly landscaping and backyard bird identification at the Audubon Shop.