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How do you make a bird-friendly habitat? It’s easier than you might think, and more than worth the effort if you love seeing and hearing birds throughout your day.

Designing a bird garden is a fantastic way to support the native bird species in your community. It can also benefit the rest of your yard, bringing in free and organic pest control so that all of your plants can thrive.

Whether you’re working with raised garden beds on an acre of land or container plants on a small backyard patio, here’s everything that you need to know about creating a truly bird-friendly yard, including how to pick out the plants that birds like and what additional features will turn your bird garden into a haven for our feathered friends.

bird on a fence
There are so many benefits to inviting birds into your yard. (Photograph by Skillshare student Donavan Landry.)

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Why You Should Create a Bird Garden

Look out your window on any spring or summer day, and you’ll likely see lots of birds flying past. But creating a bird garden is about so much more than just bringing more birds to your yard. Birds play a critical role in the ecosystem, and their mere presence can lend some much-needed support to the green spaces of your home and your neighborhood.

Just in case you’re not convinced, here are some of the big benefits of planting a bird-friendly yard.

Birds Are a Natural Form of Pest Control

Mosquitos, termites, flies, wasps, gnats, and other pesky insects are unwelcome inhabitants in most gardens. Fortunately, birds love to eat them and will happily take these invasive pests off your hands.

Different birds like different types of insects, but include bird plants that appeal to a range of species and you should end up with plenty of hungry visitors in your yard. That means fewer pests to deal with as well as an easier time avoiding the use of pesticides.

Birds Pollinate Your Plants

In addition to eating insects, many birds also enjoy eating the nectar from certain flowering and fruiting plants, trees, and shrubs. As they travel from plant to plant, they’ll spread pollen and help you grow an even more luscious garden. So too will the other pollinators that are attracted to these types of plants, such as bees and butterflies.  

Birds Help Take Care of Your Weeds

Weeds are every gardener’s enemy. And if you’d like some help getting rid of them, a bird garden is just the thing. Many common bird species eat weed seeds, including sparrows, finches, and blackbirds, so fewer weeds have a chance to ever even grow. That will help keep your yard a more weed-free space, sparing you from spending quite so much time pulling out these unwanted plants.

Birds Benefit From Our Help

Birds can have a tough time finding the food, water, and shelter that they need to survive, especially in heavily urbanized areas. By filling your yard with bird plants and other features that they like—such as a birdbath and materials for bird nests—you can do your part to provide them with resources and keep their populations strong. It’s a small but impactful thing you can do to make a difference and a great way to get involved in local wildlife conservation.

Birds Make Wonderful Photo and Watercolor Subjects

This benefit might not be the most important of the bunch, but it’s worth mentioning that birds (and bird gardens) make excellent subjects for artwork. Bring out your canvas and paint watercolor flowers, watercolor birds, or practice macro photography in your own backyard with birds and plants as both the inspiration for and main features of your shots.

watercolor birds
The more birds in your yard, the more inspiration you’ll have for your art. (Watercolor painting by Skillshare student Tulipsandsunrise Papier.)

Attracting Native Types of Birds to Your Yard

You don’t want to design a bird garden for just any birds. To make the biggest impact, it’s essential that you plant your garden with native bird species in mind—and that you select fruit trees, flowers, and other plants that are native to your area as well.

What Birds Are Native to Your Area?

Do some research to determine exactly which types of birds you should be trying to attract to your garden. A simple Google search is always a good place to start, though you can also head directly to a site like ebird.org to search native birds by region.

Put together a list of the bird species most commonly found in your area, then use this as a guide to selecting fruit shrubs and other bird-friendly plants. You’ll want most, if not all, of the plants and materials in your bird garden to be specific to the native birds of your region, since not only is this better for your immediate ecosystem, but it will also prove more effective at attracting birds to your yard.

Choosing the Best Plants for Birds

Look to your list of native bird species to narrow down your options for which plants you should grow in your bird garden, but consider the following factors as well when deciding what you want to grow.

bird in yellow tree
Sparrows are one of the most common types of birds and can be found in regions throughout the U.S. (Photograph by Skillshare student Aliaksei Brouka.)

Plants That Provide Food for Birds

Birds eat all sorts of trees, shrubs, herbs, and flowers. Fruit trees and other fruiting plants are among their favorites, but there’s a pretty extensive assortment to choose from. When selecting plants that birds like for your garden, make sure to choose those that provide food at varying seasons so the birds that visit will have plenty to eat throughout the year.

Plants That Provide Shelter for Birds

Shelter is another key thing to consider when choosing plants for a bird-friendly garden. Non-deciduous trees like evergreens will ensure that birds have shelter and a nesting spot for the entire year and can be planted along with vines, ground-covering shrubs, and larger broad-leaf trees.

As with the plants they like to eat, different native species also have their preferences for plants they like to use for shelter and their bird nests, so don’t forget to do your research there, too, when making your planting decisions.  

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Making Sure There is Water for Birds

We’ve covered food and shelter for birds, so now let’s talk water.

Putting out water will attract more birds to your garden. It will also do your native bird population a big favor, providing them with a reliable source for drinking and bathing. Just be sure to keep any water feature clean and filled, and replace the water more often on hot days so that the birds have a refreshing place to cool off.

birds in bird bath
Source:Pixabay
In addition to plants, a birdbath is one of the best things that you can include in your bird garden.

Types of water features that you can put in your garden for birds include:

  • Birdbaths: A birdbath is a small and shallow basin and a popular addition to all sorts of gardens. Pay attention to size, design, and utility when shopping for a birdbath, and consider getting one with a spouting water feature if you really want to please your garden birds.
  • Shallow containers: Birdbaths aren’t the only option for providing water for birds. Really, any shallow container will do, including old frying pans and baking sheets. As with the birdbath though, you’ll still need to clean out the container regularly and fill it back up with fresh, cool water. Decide too whether you want to keep the container on the ground, or if you want to place it on a table or pedestal so that it stays elevated.

Providing Bird Nesting Material

Birds are expert builders, but sometimes they need some help finding materials. And since you’ll be providing nesting sites in your bird garden, why not sweeten the deal by supplying nesting materials, too?

Things you can provide:

  • Twigs
  • Strips of bark
  • Pine needles
  • Feathers
  • Dry grass
  • Dead leaves

Things you should avoid:

  • Tinsel
  • Plastic materials
  • Aluminum foil
  • Dryer lint

Place the nesting materials in an accessible pile or in a hanging mesh bag or berry basket. You can also hide nesting materials in various tree crevices for your garden visitors to find.

Avoiding Insecticides in Your Bird-Friendly Garden

The fruit plants, flowers, trees, shrubs, and herbs that you plant for the birds are also going to attract some uninvited pests. It’s the nature of gardening, of course, and something that’s impossible to avoid. How you respond to these pests is important, though, and you want to be careful not to use any insecticides in your garden or to include plants that have been sprayed with them.

Sadly, insecticides are made with dozens of ingredients that can be fatal to birds. They also kill off bird food sources and disrupt their natural behaviors. This is particularly true of neonicotinoids, which are the most common types of insecticide used today.

Keep birds fed, happy, and safe by avoiding insecticide use in your yard and by avoiding plants from nurseries and big box stores (Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, etc.) that have likely been grown with insecticides. Instead, purchase your plants from local nurseries that can guarantee they don’t use harmful insecticides; or better yet, grow your plants from seed.

Bird-Safe Pest Control Alternatives

Remember, birds themselves are a great method of pest control in your yard, so if you plant a thriving bird garden, you should be good to go.

However, if you absolutely must use other methods, you’ll want to stick to pest remedies that don’t pose as much harm to birds as neonicotinoids and related insecticides. This includes nematodes, pyrethrum, and insecticidal soaps and oils. DIY methods like vinegar and corn gluten meal could also be effective.

bird with flowers
Source:Pixabay
If you really want to protect the birds in your garden, it’s crucial that you avoid using toxic chemical insecticides.

Does Your Garden Need a Bird Feeder?

It may seem like a no-brainer that you should include a bird feeder in your garden, but it’s actually not necessary during the parts of the year when your garden is in full bloom.

In the spring and summer, the birds that visit your garden should have a wealth of insects to eat, plus the fruit, nectar, and seeds from your garden flower and fruit plants. As mentioned in a previous section, you’ll also want to make a point to include plants that produce food for birds in the cooler seasons. But if you can’t—or if your plants are bare or simply not producing enough of a food supply—then a bird feeder could be appropriate during the fall and winter months.

Additional Tips for Designing a Bird Garden

There are a few more tips to consider as you design a serene and supportive garden for your neighborhood birds:

  • Layer your plants. Birds don’t only like to hang out high up in the treetops. Provide ground cover plants, vines, shrubs, and trees of varying heights to mimic the variety of plant growth found in free-growing nature. The birds will have more spots to choose from, and you’ll have more birds in your garden.
  • Dead tree? Leave it be. If you end up with a dead tree in your yard, resist the urge to clear it out. Dead trees provide ample nesting materials for birds, and they continue to provide shelter too. If it’s an eyesore, you can get rid of some of the tree, but do try to leave at least a portion for the birds to make use of.
  • Limit grass. Grass is one of the least beneficial plants you can have in a yard, and yet we let it take up so much space. Swap it out as you can by replacing the grass with native plants and wildflowers. The birds will thank you, and you won’t have to do as much upkeep.

Be a friend to the birds, and the birds will be a friend right back. Start making plans now for your bird-friendly garden, and create a haven for birds that they will return to again and again.

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