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Create a Bird Friendly Garden

Updated on December 6, 2010
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Nicolette Goff is a watercolourist, writer, and dedicated gardener. Her books, articles, and paintings reveal her love of nature.

Can you imagine a garden without birds - no spring robin, hopping about and searching for food. No tiny hummingbirds zipping from flower to flower. No little brown sparrows or black-capped chickadees scratching under the plants, or feeding at a seed-laden feeder. No cheery birdsongs to wake you in early summer mornings, and drowsy chirping to put you to sleep at night. It's simple to create a bird-friendly garden, where you can enjoy hearing and watching wild birds.

Birds can definitely use our hospitality - songbird populations are shrinking due to the loss of their natural habitat. Ever expanding urban development, use of pesticides and insecticides on farms and in our yards, roaming cats and even collisions with the glass windows of our buildings all contribute to their diminished numbers.

American Robin - often the first sign of spring.
American Robin - often the first sign of spring.

Picture instead a garden created as a bird-friendly habitat. Plants to provide shelter, food and nesting materials abound. Diverse plantings attract many species of birds, as well as the insects they feed on. Brush piles and trees provide shelter, nesting areas, and food. Whenever possible, encourage native plants, as their seeds are the natural food for native birds.

Black Capped Chickadee
Black Capped Chickadee
Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird

Sunflowers, goldenrod, coneflower and joe-pye weed are great plants to include in a bird-friendly garden. As these go to seed, finches, juncos, sparrows and goldfinches will be attracted. Hummingbirds are attracted to bold colorful plants, especially red ones. They prefer bell or trumpet-shaped flowers, such as bleeding heart, flag iris, bluebells, and wild geraniums in spring. Beebalm, butterfly weed, monards, and verbena are summer favorites for the little hummers.

Flowers for the Bird Garden

Monarda, or Bee balm
Monarda, or Bee balm

By keeping evergreens in your yard, you'll provide birds with shelter both winter and summer. Pine cones provide food for species such as crossbills, chickadees, finches and towhees. Hang a few birdhouses in your trees or on fence posts to encourage nesting.

Berry-producing trees such as mountain ash, Russian olive and crabapple are popular with birds, and are good food sources in fall and winter. Some of the best shrubs for attracting birds include Canada serviceberry, partridgeberry, common elderberry, common snowberry and the highbush blueberry. Robins love to rose hips, the fruit of rugosa roses.

Bluejays - nesting in a pine tree.
Bluejays - nesting in a pine tree.
Towhee - a shy bird that loves to scratch under shrubs and brush.
Towhee - a shy bird that loves to scratch under shrubs and brush.


Set up a feeding station to provide birds with food when natural and garden food is scarce and insects are few. Make sure your feeder is squirrel-proof and easily cleaned and filled. Why not hang several feeders, each with different seeds to attract a variety of birds?

Black sunflower seeds are favorites of cardinals, bluejays, finches and sparrows. Niger seeds atract songbirds and finches. And since the birds will come to rely on this food source, fill the feeders through the winter.

A hummingbird feeder will need cleaning every two or three days in warm weather, and the syrup is easily made. Simply clean feeders by scrubbing with hot water, and allowing to air dry thoroughly. Commercial cleaners may be toxic to birds.

And Water...

Birds need fresh water so a birdbath in the garden is a good addition. It should be shallow, with sloping sides. The surfaces should be rough, and add a few rocks for perches. Scrub the birdbath and refill the water often, to keep the water fresh and minimize mosquito populations. Locate your birdbath in a sunny spot, away from trees or dense shrubs. Bathing birds are easy prey for lurking cats!

Robin Having a Bath...

It's not difficult to design a bird-friendly garden. A natural-looking space is more attractive to birds than a well-manicured yard. Soon you'll have a friendly place to sit back, relax, and just do a little bird watching!


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