With a friendly attitude and maybe a few attractions, just about everyone can attract birds to their backyard—even without a feeder.
Your backyard is the perfect place to get to know all the migratory birds that pass through your area.
Like the human guests to your backyard, birds will reward your attention with their unique personalities and appearances.
In this article, we will give three great ways to help attract birds without a feeder.
Attract Birds with Birdhouses
As winter progresses to spring, birds begin to think about nesting. Birdhouses and nesting boxes give birds a safe place to lay their eggs and raise their chicks.
Birdhouses protect their residents from predators and the weather.
Nesting boxes provide birds with secure barriers around their nests.
But birds can be choosy about which birdhouses and nesting boxes they choose for building their nests. or not use them at all.
Some birds don’t use birdhouses
Hummingbirds, robins, bluejays, cardinals, towhees, tanagers, and catbirds will not build a nest in a birdhouse.
But you can provide habitat for them by making sure there are thorny shrubs and bushes at the edges of your backyard where they can raise their families.
If you happen to live in a tropical or semi-tropical location, your local birds may prefer to build their nests directly on the ground.
They look for security from predators, including pets.
Some birds nest in cavities and only accept birdhouses with exactly the right dimensions
Chickadees, wrens, swallows, martins, bluebirds, and titmice usually look for cavities in trees.
But they will accept a birdhouse that is neither too small nor too large.
Nesting boxes are the preferred home for other common birds
Warblers, wood ducks, and both western and eastern screech owls look for open nesting boxes placed in secure locations.
Birdhouses have a few standard features
Although birdhouse “condos” like martin houses are usually made of aluminum, the best birdhouses for solitary nesting pairs are made from untreated wood.
Ideally, wood for birdhouses should be at least 3/4-inch (18 mm) thick, to provide adequate insulation and to protect the residents inside from the claws of predators.
Cedar repels mites and ticks and stands up to the weather.
The pieces of the birdhouse should be connected with galvanized screws. Nails tend to come loose over time.
Making sure the roof of the birdhouse slopes down and overhangs the sides by a few inches keeps rain and snow out of the nest.
There need to be ventilation holes near the roof line on each side, and drainage holes in the floor.
Your birdhouse does not need to have a perch on the outside.
Cavity-nesting birds like chickadees, wrens, swallows, martins, bluebirds, and titmice have strong feet, and can grasp the edges of the entry hole to get inside the birdhouse.
They don’t need a perch, although predators that could attack the nest do.
Inside the nest, however, it is helpful to make the wood around the entry hole rougher by scraping it with a knife or a chisel, so young chicks will have an easier climb to the exit when they leave the nest to learn how to fly.
You will need to clear out debris and sanitize the birdhouse once a year when the nesting birds have left it for the season.
It helps to have a roof panel or a side panel you can lift up to reach in and do cleaning.
But be sure that it can be securely closed again to keep the birdhouse safe for next year’s family.
Resist the urge to paint or decorate your birdhouse. Birds are more likely to choose birdhouses that have a natural look.
The size of the entrance hole matters
Most desirable species of birds can squeeze through a 1-1/2 inch (38 mm) entry hole.
If you are building a birdhouse for wrens and sparrows, 1 inch (25 mm) is enough.
But if you make a larger entry hole in your birdhouse, 2 inches (50 mm) or more, you are inviting undesirable, non-native birds like European starlings and non-native house sparrows.
Make sure the entry hole is the right size for the kind of bird you want in the house.
When and where to place your birdhouse
In much of North America, some migratory birds start looking for nesting places as early as March.
There may be birds that are raising their second brood of the year as late as November.
This means that you have the best results when you install your birdhouse by late February, but you may still attract birds if you put it up as late as August or September.
Mounting your birdhouse on a pole provides the greatest degree of security for the birds inside.
For additional protection, place a baffle on the supporting pole. There are baffles shaped like inverted cones or stovepipes.
They will keep climbing snakes, squirrels, mice, rats, raccoons, and cats from climbing up to steal eggs or eat young chicks.
You can also place birdhouses on fence posts or in trees. But don’t place a birdhouse within 15 feet of a reflective glass window or in areas with heavy use of pesticides or herbicides.
Most birds build their nests at a height of 5 to 20 feet (1.5 to 6 meters). Placing a birdhouse 5 feet off the ground is sure to attract some desirable species.
There are also two other ways you can provide a home for backyard birds, boxes and condos.
Bluebirds are among the most popular backyard visitors. They prefer to stay where they have a secure location to build their nest.
Across the eastern half of the US and Canada, bluebirds mostly nest in boxes set out for them by backyard birding enthusiasts.
The secret to success with bluebird boxes is to place them in a secure location, for example, under a thorny bush, next to the bluebird’s feeding grounds.
Bluebirds eat bugs. They hunt insects flying above open, grassy fields. You can leave them some raisins soaked in water for a special treat.
Hundreds of bluebirds may converge on a single location in the fall and spring.
If you want smaller numbers of bluebirds to stay in your backyard through the winter, however, provide them with a heated birdbath.
Purple Martin Condos
Special rules apply to purple martins, a popular backyard bird that is famous for eating mosquitos.
Historically, martins build their nests in hollow cavities in snags (dead trees) that had first been hollowed out by woodpeckers.
At some point, Native Americans began hanging up gourds with a hollowed-out holes inside for these favorite birds to live in.
Then, the first European settlers started imitating the Native American practice, and nowadays all purple martins that live east of the Rocky Mountains build their nests in artificial martin houses.
There are still some purple martins in the Pacific Northwest that build their nests in hollowed cavities in dead trees.
Modern martin houses can provide a home for dozens, hundreds, or even as many as a thousand nesting pairs in a single densely populated colony.
You need a large space, at least an acre (4000 square meters), a source of water, and lots of insects.
You should not place a martin house in a location that is regularly sprayed for mosquitoes, since the martins depend on them for food.
Attracting the first pairs of purple martins to your purple martin house is the tricky part. Once you do, they will come back every year.
You can learn more about how to encourage purple martins to nest on your property from the Purple Martin Conservation Association.
Attract Birds with Birdbaths
All birds need water. Some birds get adequate hydration from the food they eat, but most birds need to drink water every day.
Many kinds of birds like bird baths, especially hot, dry, dusty weather.
Your mental image of a birdbath may be a flat, round concrete dish mounted on a pedestal and sold as a garden ornament, but the kind of birdbath that wild birds need is a little different.
The Best Birdbaths Are Low and Shallow
Most birds find the water they need every day in puddles. They look for shallow pools of water at ground level.
If your cat has access to your backyard, any visiting birds may need to get their water from the traditional birdbath on a pedestal, but otherwise, birds prefer water sources at ground level.
Make sure your birdbath has gently sloping sides and is shallow enough that small songbirds can stand in it just getting their feet wet.
Many commercial birdbaths have steep, slippery sides leading to a deep basin, making them inaccessible to small birds.
If the older, larger, deeper birdbath is what you have to work with, add some pebbles to keep the depth of the water to no more than an inch and provide some dry places around the edges where small birds can land for a quick drink.
Birdbaths Need Protection
Shady places are preferable for birdbaths. The overhead foliage protects songbirds from high-flying raptors and other predators.
Shady places keep the water cooler, and reduce evaporation. Positioning your birdbath under a hedge or a dense, thorny shrub makes birds feel protected and encourages them to come back for water on a regular basis.
Birds also need a nearby place to perch while they dry their feathers.
Be sure to place the birdbath where you can see it from an inside window. That way you will have all-weather bird watching from the comfort of your home.
Drippers, Misters, and Circulation Pumps
Dripping water is cleaner, fresher, and more attractive to birds. Adding a dripping faucet to your birdbath will make it much more attractive to birds.
Birds also enjoy misters for preening and cleaning their feathers. Misters are especially attractive to hummingbirds.
Circulation pumps keep water moving, so it does not accumulate algae and provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Birdbaths need to be cleaned about once a week during warm weather.
You don’t need to sanitize them with Clorox and soap, but you at least need to remove any droppings and debris and to replace dirty water with clean.
If you want birds in your backyard during the winter, consider adding a submersible heating unit to your birdbath.
It keeps the water from icing over, giving birds that stay in your yard all year a dependable source of drinking water.
You can also place a light bulb connected to a safe, grounded power source inside an upside-down flower pot for just enough warmth to keep water flowing all year.
A Special Note About Birdbaths in Winter Weather
Concrete and ceramic birdbaths often crack in icy weather.
If you are providing birds with water during the winter, make sure you use a plastic or resin birdbath.
Attract Birds by Landscaping for Backyard Birds
A third, highly effective method of attracting birds to your backyard without a feeder is to landscape your yard with plants that support wildlife.
Grass alone won’t attract birds, especially if you use weedkillers.
To boost biological diversity and attract birds to your backyard, consider replacing grass with shrubs, trees, vines, and flowers that provide birds with both food and shelter.
Some plants produce fruit, berries, and seeds that some birds can’t resist.
They are like a naturally replenishing bird feeder that you never have to restock. Even birds that do not eat plant foods appreciate having food plants nearby.
They feast on the insects that feed on plant foods, provided, of course, that you do not kill them with insecticides.
Want finches and chickadees in your backyard? Plant sunflowers.
Are you a hummingbird fan? Plant red flowers.
Virginia creepers produce berries that stay on the plant even during the winter, for winter visitors to your backyard.
Elderberries and serviceberries attract catbirds, grosbeaks, jays, woodpeckers, and thrushes.
Planting a variety of foliage plants attracts a variety of birds looking for just the right addition to their nest.
The greater the variety of plants you have in your yard, the greater the variety of birds that can take shelter there.
Trees and shrubs provide a place for birds to nest and roost. Thorny shrubs give smaller songbirds shelter from their predators.
Birds will appreciate having a space in your yard reserved for “weeds.”
If you can tolerate some untidiness in your yard, birds will enjoy scratching in the ground for different bugs and seeds.
They will use sticks and leaves as building materials. Dead trees (snages) attract woodpeckers, owls, hawks, bluebirds, and flycatchers. If you don’t like the way they look, use them as a trellis for roses.
The one rule to keep in mind with planting for birds is you can’t use pesticides. Let the birds take care of your pest control.
They need the bugs to feed their young and to build up energy for migration.
A Final Consideration for Backyard Bird Habitat
There is just one more thing to remember about providing a home for birds in your backyard:
Don’t let all of your efforts to make a home for birds in your backyard create an “ecotrap.”
How can that happen?
Sometimes homeowners spend all spring encouraging insect-eating birds to build their nests and raise their young in their backyards, and then decide to mow the grass short in the middle of the summer.
The insects in the grass fly away, and the birds have to work harder to find insects for their babies.
Sometimes homeowners decide that birds are doing a good enough job of bug control and decide to spray.
Or they clean up tall grass and weeds that birds are using for shelter. Or they let their cat roam through their backyard bird habitat.
Don’t create an eco trap for backyard birds. Provide a dependable home for migrating birds, and let them provide you with hours of viewing pleasure.
Other articles you may also like:
- How to Attract Birds to Your Window Feeder?
- How to Attract Wild Birds to Your Backyard
- How to Attract Indigo Buntings to Your Backyard
- How to Attract Orioles to Your Backyard
- How to Attract Cedar Waxwings to Your Backyard
- How to Attract Warblers to Your Yard
- Best Plants that Attract Birds to Your Backyard