There are few things more enchanting than the dawn chorus of songbirds, however, as new housing developments replace old pastures and woodlands many bird species are finding it more and more difficult to live and reproduce as they once did. By offering birds necessities such as food, water, and shelter you will be providing them with resources which they may have a difficult time finding elsewhere. In turn, you'll have a chance to enjoy the sight and sound of birds year-round in your yard.
Bird feeders are often the first thing people use to entice feathered creatures onto their property, but the type of feeder you use and where you place it makes a significant impact on which birds will use it. Putting feeders near shade trees attracts birds because they will have a place to retreat if threatened by predators or by rivals. You can provide a single feeder with a mix of seeds to attract a wide variety of species, or you can purchase foods that entice a specific kind of bird. Goldfinches, for example, prefer thistle seeds and prefer feeders which allow them to hang sideways while eating as they would in the wild. Orioles favor nectar feeders or sliced oranges. There are also a wide array of species that prefer to feed directly from the ground such as quail, cardinals, and doves, and may not like using a traditional bird feeder. Providing several kinds of feeding stations will help you attract multiple species, and by tailoring what kinds of food you offer, you can draw the types of birds you enjoy the most.
The second thing you will need to furnish to attract birds to your yard is a clean and reliable source of water. Not only do birds need water for drinking, but it is also vital for birds to bathe regularly. Bathing allows them to accurately groom and maintain their feathers which in turn gives them protection against wind and rain. A broad but shallow birdbath is best for most species, and if your yard is frequented by cats or other predators use a birdbath that has a pedestal.
The third and most often overlooked thing that your feathered visitors need is plenty of covers. Most birds are prey species, meaning that they must always be on alert for predators. Soon after you hang a feeder, cats, raccoons, foxes, and others may quickly realize that your yard harbors a large number of well-fed birds for them to snack upon. If you don't provide the right kind of cover you'll not only be attracting robins and finches; you'll be drawing their predators as well. If you ever observe birds, you'll notice that they prefer areas that offer protection not only from ground predators such as cats and foxes, but they also seek shelter from aerial predators like hawks. For this reason, if you want to make your yard a sanctuary for birds, you will need to offer them thick shrubs as well as tall trees in which to take cover.
The type of trees and shrubs you use will largely depend on the size of your yard and the local climate. Wherever you live or the size of your yard, there are specific characteristics of the plants you choose that should be the same no matter if you live in Maine, Key West, or Las Vegas. The most important aspect of a bird sheltering plant is a dense, bushy growth pattern. Use species that not only have thick foliage but a dense growth of branches, so that birds have a place to shelter from predators and inclement weather even during the winter. Planting low growing shrubs beneath shade trees attracts birds by providing multiple levels of cover. Thick shrubs such as burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are a good choice, as they can tolerate some shade from the tree above and have attractive fall foliage. Be aware. However, that burning bushes are considered invasive in some areas. Another excellent shrub for providing cover is lilac shrubs (Syringa vulgaris). These deciduous ornamentals can be grown as either a bush or as a small tree, and although they are best known for their sweet-smelling flowers, lilacs are also known for attracting birds due to their dense growth habit. These are just two examples among many, and there are many alternatives to burning bushes and lilac shrubs.
If you have a passion for wildlife and would like to attract more birds to your yard, these are a few things you should offer your avian visitors to make them feel more at home. Like any creature, birds are attracted to food and offering them a well-stocked feeder will instantly increase the number of birds you will see. Likewise, birds of all species need to have a reliable source of water. But if you genuinely want birds to feel at home in your yard, the most important thing you can offer them is a shelter. Combining all three elements will make your backyard a beloved home of wild birds for years to come.