There is nothing really mysterious about the best way to attract birds to your yard and to your landscape:
But you don’t have to go with a hit or miss approach of trying to attract a few birds at a time to your home with an occasional feeding of birdseed or hanging up the hummingbird feeder every spring.
You can attract birds to your yard all year round without feeding squirrels and mice and without worrying about the birdseed or the hummingbird nectar going bad by cultivating plants that attract birds.
In this article, we’ll give you a bird-by-bird guide to attracting the species you most want to see around your home.
But first, we’ll cover some basic principles for attracting and keeping birds in your landscape all year round.
What Birds Want in Your Landscape
Birds are attracted to places that provide them with dependable food, water, and shelter. They will grow fond of the locations that provide all three.
You can choose the kinds of birds you attract to your yard by
- Choosing the kinds of plants the species of bird you want to attract likes
- Growing those plants in the right density
The greater the variety of plants you include in your garden, the greater the variety of birds that will visit it.
If you are hoping to see a rare bird up close, nurture the plants that nurture it.
“Layer” your landscape with plants of different sizes. Birds need to be able to fly between the plants on which they feed, but they also need cover where they can rest and nest.
By putting out plants of different sizes, you will encourage birds to make your yard their all-year home.
Even if all you have is a tiny backyard, you can put out a variety of interesting plants and a miniature bird bath.
If you have a large yard or you live in a rural area, you can create expansive habitat to attract and maintain a variety of bird species. Just remember that different birds prefer different plants.
Planting to Attract Baltimore Orioles
A Baltimore oriole is a bird you will often hear before you see, if you provide your orioles with another cover.
Orioles love to eat caterpillars. In this way, they protect crops and forests. They feed on nectar and berries, but they can also catch insects in mid-flight.
The basic principles for attracting Baltimore orioles are:
- Set out a sugar-water feeder like the kind you would put out for hummingbirds.
- Set out a saucer of grape jelly.
- Add fruit, such as grapes, oranges, cherries, and apples, to your tray feeder.
Baltimore orioles like to feed on purple fruit.
Any kind of plant with purple fruit, such as cherry or serviceberry, will attract them. Orioles are also drawn to honeysuckle. Trumpet honeysuckles will rival the orioles for color.
Planting to Attract Bluebirds
Bluebirds are connoisseurs of insects, but they also feed on sweet fruit when insects are scarce.
The basic principles for attracting bluebirds are:
- Provide a birdhouse with an opening at least six inches above its floor. The opening of the birdhouse should face east.
- Plant a variety of fruits and berries.
- Place slices of apple on your platform feeder along with birdseed.
Not everyone has the acidic soil and constant moisture to grow blueberries, but if you can, you have a bluebird magnet. Blueberries also like to feed on black chokeberry, fly honeysuckle, and clove currant.
Planting to Attract Blue Jays
Blue jays have an aggressive personality, but their beautiful plumage makes them welcome in yards and gardens everywhere.
The blueness of a blue jay’s feathers is due to the way they refract light, not pigments. If a blue jay gets wet or its feathers are ruffled, they lose their intense blue color. Give your blue jays cover so they can stay out of the rain.
The basic principles for attracting blue jays are:
- Put out crushed eggshells in your platform feeder. The crushed eggshells give your blue jays calcium and discourage raids on the nests of other birds.
- Include a few cherries in the mix of seeds and fruits on your platform feeder.
Blue jays eat acorns, so they are attracted to oaks. You can set out cotoneaster to provide blue jays with both food and shelter. The smell of cotoneaster blossoms will discourage traffic from blue jays in the spring, but the appearance of fruit in the fall will bring them back. Blue jays are also fond of wild cherry trees.
Planting to Attract Cardinals
Cardinals mate for life. When you attract a pair of cardinals to your yard, you can have a permanent, beautiful addition to your landscape if you provide them with food and shelter.
Cardinals hop from location to location on the ground as they forage for grass, grains, seeds, and fruit, but they will also eat caterpillars and beetles.
The basic principles of attracting cardinals are:
- Providing evergreen shrubs and trees for roosting and nesting.
- Installing a year-round heated birdbath.
- Adding peanuts to the cracked corn and sunflower seeds in your platform feeder.
A species of viburnum known as the snowball tree provides year-round shelter for cardinals. They will feast on its purple-black berries in the fall. Chinese juniper adds to the winter food supply. Cardinals appreciate sharing your apple crop.
Also read: Cardinal Symbolism and Meaning
Planting to Attract Goldfinches
American goldfinches are sometimes called “wild canaries” because of their migratory habit and their beautiful songs.
Male goldfinches molt just before the mating season and grow back especially brilliant golden plumage. These gentle birds usually travel in flocks, feeding on seeds and grains.
The basic principles of attracting goldfinches are:
- Sprinkle some rock salt on a saucer and set it out where goldfinches can find it. Goldfinches need natural salt.
- Put out a nyjer feeder (sometimes called a thistle feeder) to give your goldfinches an experience like that of eating their favorite food, thistle seeds. Nyger feeders come as tiny bags of seeds to which goldfinches cling as they pick out the seeds, or tube feeders with very small feeding ports.
- Keep your birdbath clean and full.
Plants goldfinches like include Japanese maples, sunflowers, and thistles for their seeds, and mulberries for their fruit.
Planting to Attract House Wrens
Wrens entertain us with songs that vary from location. The serenade you hear from the wrens in your yard won’t be the same that your friends may hear from their wrens a few miles away.
The basic principles for attracting wrens are:
- Wrens look for locations with lots of ground cover.
- Gourd houses provide a welcome nesting site. Make sure the gourds are well-secured to the branch or post you use to hang them.
- Wrens will use nests previously occupied by woodpeckers.
- Wrens need a shallow birdbath.
Wrens like to forage in sugar maples.
Dense deciduous shrubs such as American hazelnut and coralberry provide safe foraging areas for this bird.
In dry climates, a green-leafed manzanita attracts insects for wrens to eat.
The manzanita’s thick foliage, red berries, and bright blossoms will add visual appeal to your garden.
Planting to Attract Hummingbirds
There is a lot more you can do to attract hummingbirds than just putting up a sugar-water feeder.
Hummingbirds naturally feed on a variety of flowering plants. There will always be some kind of flowering plant you can grow to attract hummingbirds.
The basic principles for attracting hummingbirds are:
- Plant flowers that produce nectar.
- Introduce trees that produce sap, such as birch and maple, into your landscape.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the previously mentioned birch and maple. It will take about 10 years to get these trees established to the point they attract hummingbirds. In the meantime, you can plant bee balm, garden phlox, ivy geranium, and shrimp plants to give them their fill of nectar.
How to Attract Lark Sparrows
Male lark sparrows are one of the few songbirds that walk instead of a hop. It will only hop when it is trying to attract a mate.
Lark sparrows are also unusual in that their songs consist of not just notes but also buzzes. In nature, they live on scrubby grassland with poor soil, where they forage for insects and seeds.
The basic principles for attracting lark sparrows are:
- Set up a birdbath. Lark sparrows will both drink and bathe at your birdbath.
- Plant a hedgerow around your yard to give lark sparrows cover in every direction.
- Grow herbaceous ground covers such as phlox and foamflowers to provide shade and protection.
Lark sparrows are especially fond of black-eyed Susans. Their flower heads produce a cone of seeds that the sparrows will pick clean.
Bluestem grasses that you don’t mow grow well in poor soil and provide a continuous supply of insects for your sparrows. Pink coral bells provide additional cover for foraging on the ground.
Planting to Attract Mockingbirds
Mockingbirds love to sing. They have a ritual in which they flash their wings to reveal their brighter belly feathers.
Ornithologists believe that this is a hunting ritual that startles insects and makes them easier to catch. Mockingbirds also feed on fruit, insects, snails, spiders, and small snakes.
The basic principles for attracting mockingbirds are:
- Planting a variety of berry-producing vines and shrubs so some kind of berry is always available.
- Encouraging ground cover for foraging.
- Including fruit on your bird feeder tray.
Mockingbirds like to feed on waxy berries, such as bayberry, Eastern red cedar, and arborvitae.
Planting to Attract Red-Breasted Nuthatches
Red-breasted nuthatches are nature’s survival preppers. They hoard seeds to prepare for winter.
They will not migrate, that is, they will stay in your yard if they accumulate enough food to make the winter.
The basic principles for attracting nuthatches are:
- Provide suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts in your feeders.
- Keep your nuthatches supplied with plenty of freshwaters.
- Provide your nuthatches with birdhouses at least 15 feet (5 meters) off the ground.
The favorite food of red-breasted nuthatches is conifer seeds. Keep your pines and spruces in good condition to keep your nuthatches fed. You can also plant thimbleberries. These fragrant shrubs have pink to purple flowers that produce tiny berries. Both the berries and the insects that grow on the shrub are food for red-breasted nuthatches.
Planting to Attract Purple Martins
We all know that to attract purple martins you put up martin houses, right? Plants can make your landscape attractive to purple martins, too.
The basic principles for attracting purple martins are:
- Native insects feed on native plants. To encourage the growth of insects to feed your martins, grow native plants, not exotic plants.
- Brightly colored flowers attract the insects that feed your purple martins.
Red buckeye flower bears drooping panicles that attract insects. Combining climbing honeysuckle with a ground cover will also keep your martin’s fed all summer long.
Planting to Attract Robins
Robins are among the first birds to return in the spring.
These shy birds feed on the ground, pulling earthworms out of the ground with their beaks, and feeding on small fruits.
The basic principles for attracting robins are:
- Mount a nesting shelf on the side of your house.
- Don’t spray your lawn. Robins will eat the beetle grubs you would kill with sprays.
- Keep your flower beds mulched to give robins more opportunities to look for insects and worms.
Plants that attract robins include hackberries, which provide food for robins from early summer into the winter.
Hackberries are invasive if young hackberries are not pulled on a regular basis.
Hackberries like to nest in trees that host edible insects, such as Japanese maples and many species of pines. They also like to share your apple harvest.
Planting to Attract White-Breasted Nuthatches
Red-breasted nuthatches are sturdy little birds that you can sometimes see hopping along on top of a branch.
You can also see the hopping along on the side of a branch, or hanging upside down from a branch.
Nuthatches use their sharp bills to pry seeds out of nuts. They then deposit them in bark for future feeding.
They have a distinctive song that has been described as yank-yank.
The basic principles for attracting white-breasted nuthatches include:
- White-breasted nuthatches prefer dense evergreen cover. Maintaining your evergreens will attract them to your property.
- Even better, they are attracted to dense stands of nut trees near your property.
It takes years to grow nut trees, but you can get similar results with sunflowers. Densely planted sunflowers provide both food and shelter for white-breasted nuthatches and many other birds.
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