Knowing the basics survival needs of birds and what attracts birds will help you design a garden full of year round feathered guests. The basic needs for songbirds are the same as any animal: food, water, and shelter. In addition, safety from predators and a safe place to raise their young are what birds look for in a habitat. Provide these for the birds year round and you will have some songbirds visiting your backyard year round.
Bird feeders will certainly draw some birds. But there can be problemsneighborhood cats. All of which will catch and eat adult birds, eggs, and vulnerable fledglings when they leave the nest.
To best attract birds to your yard using food and provide a good source of nutrition, vary your food choices. Plant native plants that will bloom and go to seed to attract nectar eaters and seed eating birds. Place several types of feeders around the yard, such as suet, thistle, and fruit, in addition to regular bird seed. This will turn your yard into a bountiful garden that attracts a variety of backyard birds year round.
Put out only millet and sunflower seeds and you will not see the diversity of birds living in your region, as the competitive sparrows and finches tend to take over such feeders.
A fresh source of water for bathing and drinking will bring in flocks of birds. Water that moves and is heated in the winter will attract more birds than standing water or frozen water in the winter.
Birds need to feel safe to venture into your backyard to forage. Birds will use bushes and trees to perch in when spooked and to scan the yard for safety before foraging. They will tend to use open spaces more for feeding because predators can't hide in open spaces. Many birds prefer to eat where they can keep an eye out for predators and escape without obstacles. When designing your backyard bird habitat, incorporate open spaces for foraging and bushes and trees for them to retreat to.
If you want to have nesting birds take up residence in your yard from spring to fall, then you'll need to provide nesting spots and materials. You can hang mesh bags filled with cotton, short pieces of yarn, and pet fur, in trees and on fences for birds to use in their nest building.
Providing a nest spot can be a little more difficult. Hanging what you think is an attractive birdhouse will not often get you the residents you expect. Every species of bird has a preference for nesting locations and how that nest is construction. For example, cardinals and hummingbirds tend to nest in lower bushes or in low branches, while bluebirds and chickadees tend to make use of nest boxes according to Projects for the Birder’s Garden. For the best results, research the nesting habits of birds native to your region and provide nest boxes, birdhouses, and nesting supplies that cater to those birds.
Care for Backyard Birds
When you do add artificial bird feeders, bird baths, and birdhouses, you do need to take steps to prevent diseases. What attracts birds to your yard can also create a breeding ground for bacterial and viral infections. With the birds congregating at these sources, such avian diseases can decimate several populations at once. Clean all water sources and feeders once a week by scrubbing with soap and water. Do the same with birdhouses at the end of fall when the parents have stopped using the nest to get them ready for the spring.
Bird Garden Ecosystem
When creating a backyard bird habitat, keep in mind the entire ecosystem of your yard. Using herbicides or pesticides will disrupt the natural balance, making your yard unappealing to songbirds, and could directly harm the very birds you are trying to attract. If you don’t like the weeds, hand pull them or use nontoxic methods such as vinegar. For pest bugs, release beneficial bugs or just let your backyard birds eat them.
If you are interested in attracting certain bird species, then learn more about those birds' natural history and apply that to your basic backyard bird garden design. For example, orioles and mocking birds eat fruit. Leaving out slices of oranges and other fruits and planting fruit trees will attract various oriole species.