How to Attract Birds to Your Garden

Woodpecker, Tina Phillips,

Attracting birds to your yard is rewarding not only for the great birdwatching opportunities, but also because birds provide natural pest control, gobbling up various creatures that attack your plants. To attract birds and encourage them to stay, provide food plants and trees, nesting sites, water sources, feeders, and bird baths.

Plants and Flowers That Attract Birds to the Garden

Birds don’t want to visit vast stretches of well-manicured, empty lawn. Birds like cover, variety, nesting sites, and food plants. Trees and shrubs that produce lots of berries are always a draw, and dense shrubbery and ivy-covered structures such as arches and pagodas act as hiding places to make birds feel safer.

Trees and other plants that provide abundant food in spring and summer to meet the needs of nesting birds include:

    • Red Buckeye
    • Serviceberry
    • Birch
    • Blueberry
    • Strawberry
    • Bee Balm
    • Honeysuckle

Plants that offer food to support birds as they prepare for leaner times in winter include:

    • Dogwood (pictured to the right)
    • Elderberry
    • Viburnum
    • Aster
    • Cardinal Flower
    • Sunflower
    • Bittersweet

If you have limited space to work with, consider adding some of the following plants, which provide year-round seed or fruit to support birds through every season:

    • Chokeberry
    • Crabapple
    • Hackberry
    • Hawthorn
    • Holly
    • Bayberry
    • Firethorn
    • Sumac
    • Shrub Rose

Some top picks for bird-attracting trees and plants include:

  • Dogwood (attracts 80 species)
  • Red cedar (attracts 68 species)
  • Eastern White Pine (attracts 51 species)
  • Schubert Chokecherry (attracts 43 species)
  • Viburnum (attracts 41 species)
  • Cherry (attracts 40 species)
  • Vaccinium, a genus that includes blueberry, cranberry, huckleberry, bilberry, lingonberry, and others (attracts 39 species)
  • Virginia Creeper (attracts 37 species)
  • Staghorn Sumac (attracts 31 species)
  • Eleagnus (attracts 30 species)

Additional flowers that draw birds to a garden include:

    • Bachelor’s Button
    • Black-Eyed Susan
    • Poppy (pictured to the right)
    • Chrysanthemum
    • Columbine
    • Marigold
    • Purple Coneflower

Some plants that provide food for birds such as holly, bayberry, mulberry, bittersweet, and certain junipers require a plant of each gender to ensure food production. If you’re unsure as to whether a particular plant requires a mate to be fertile, ask at your local garden center.

When planning a bird-friendly garden, think about what sort of birds you’d most like to attract, as different birds have different landscaping preferences. For example, birds such as blue jays, rose-breasted grosbeaks, flickers, white-breasted nuthatches, and scarlet tanagers love dense trees, whereas others, such as the goldfinch, indigo bunting, yellow warbler, song sparrow, and house wren, prefer shrubs, though many birds like both.

For photos of birds and lists of trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that attract each species, visit the Bird Plants page.

Bird Feeders

Bird feeders draw birds to the garden and provide them with much-needed seeds and suet during lean seasons. There are a broad array of styles commercially available, some quite beautiful, but they’re also very easy to make.

Be sure to place feeders where birds have a good view of approaching predators. Planting something prickly around the base of the feeder can prevent your birdfeeder from becoming a cat feeder. If the feeder hangs from a tree, make sure that it has a sufficiently long cord so that cats can’t simply reach down from the branch and grab birds.

Another safety issue with bird feeders is the potential for window collisions, which kill an estimated 1 billion birds per year in the U.S. alone. To reduce the risk of window collisions, the Madison Audubon Society recommends placing feeders either 10 yards or more away from windows or within 3 feet of them. Hanging colourful window decals that alert birds to the presence of a barrier is also beneficial.

A third potential problem with bird feeders is that if they’re allowed to grow filthy, they can spread disease. For this reason, it’s important to clean and sterilize feeders regularly.

For information about which types of food will attract various bird species to your feeder, see the Bird Food page.

Bird Baths

Providing a birdbath or pond increases the likelihood that birds will visit your garden regularly. Bird baths should be shallowly filled, with a gentle slope if possible to accommodate birds of various sizes. Adding one or more flat stepping stones provides smaller birds with shallower sections and an easy way to step out of the tub.

Be sure to situate your birdbath in a place where birds can easily spot approaching predators, add fresh water regularly, and scrub it out as needed.

A bird bath can be a beautiful, expensive stone or ceramic work of art, or simply a clean garbage can lid sunk into the ground and filled with water. Birds aren’t fussy, so the choice can be made based on your budget and aesthetic preferences.

Nesting Boxes

Providing nesting boxes encourages birds to stick around. Nesting boxes are available inan unlimited range of styles and sizes. Choose sizes and shapes based on the types of birds you’d like to have set up shop in your yard. Attach nest boxes securely to trees so that there’s no risk that they’ll fall, and be sure to removeold nests and clean boxes with hot water during the winter.

You can also help birds with their nest-making activities by providing some building materials. Put out a flowerpot filled with sheep’s wool, or purchase or make a pretty wreath of nesting materials that you can hangon a tree or fence. In addition to sheep’s wool, good nesting materials include feathers, pet hair, grasses, twigs, and other natural materials (avoid using hair from pets that have been treated for ticks or fleas, or materials that havebeen painted or coated with chemical-based substances).

For more gardening articles, visit the main Gardening page. For more information on attracting wildlife to your garden, see Hummingbird Gardening, Butterfly Gardening, and Wildlife Gardening.


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    • Anderson, E., Regional Parks Botanic Garden. (1990). “Native Plants That Attract Birds to Your Garden.”
    • Bennet, J. (2011). “Attract Birds and Butterflies to Your Garden.” Canadian Living,
    • Craven, S.R., & Ellarson, R. (n.d.). “Landscape Plants That Attract Birds.”
    • Harris, S. (9 July 2010). “How to Attract Birds to Your Garden.”
      Madison Audubon Society. (n.d.). “How to Attract Birds to Your Yard.”
    • Ohio Landscape Association. (n.d.). “Birdscaping: Creating Your Landscape to Attract Birds.”
    • Perrone, J. (30 January 2010). “Gardens: How to Attract Birds.” The Guardian,
    • Virginia Bluebird Society. (n.d.). “Plants that Attract Birds.”
    • (2011). “Plants & Flowers That Will Attract Birds.”

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