Attracting Birds to Your Garden

…and keeping them comfy when they’re there.


Birds will come to your yard and stay if they find it to be a place that makes them feel at home. Birds need water, food and shelter. If they find only one of those things they will come; if they find two of them they’ll come more often. If they find all three things you’ll have plenty of birds to watch all year.


The easiest thing to provide is water. Birdbaths and fountains are pleasant thing for us to look at as well as providing a water source during the summer months. On hot days, birds are especially eager to bathe and drink. Bird baths should be only an inch or two deep with a shallow slope; the dripping effect of a small fountain will lure more birds. Mount the bath on a pedestal if cats are around. Clean it once a week with a stiff brush. Put the birdbath near a border of shrubs or trees, or at least under one tree, so they feel there is a safe place for them to escape to if necessary.


For shelter, create a songbird border along your property edge by planting trees and shrubs that meet the needs of birds throughout the year. The border can take the form of a hedge or windbreak, depending on your property size. Plant a number of plants close together, selecting a mix of plants, with the tallest planted at the edges of the property, and shorter species tiered toward your home. Include evergreens, such as fir, holly, pine and camellia, for cover. There are a number of good berry-producing trees and shrubs that can provide food as well as shelter. If you like everything in your yard neat and compact and dwarf, you’ll have to get over that.


Feeding is also important, of course. Bird feeders will be the primary source of food, because you just can’t grow enough food of different kinds all year to provide for very many birds, unless you have a farm and choose to devote it to the birds. Have feeders for seed-eaters and suet-eaters. You can supplement their diet by planting berry-producers, as mentioned above, and some flowering plants are great seed producers. There will be a list at the end.

For the insect and worm eaters you can do a lot with your yard maintenance practices. Rake leaves under shrubs to create mulch and natural feeding areas for ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, towhees, and thrashers. Earthworms, sow bugs, insects, and spiders will thrive in the decomposing leaf mulch, and will in turn be readily eaten by many songbirds. In general, overly tidy gardeners are poor bird gardeners. If you have a “mow and blow” yard maintenance service, they are destroying potential bird food every week when they do your yard.

To provide more grow-it-yourself bird food, and a more attractive habitat, reduce your lawn by at least 25% and plant tall meadow plants and taller grasses. Tall grasses provide seeds and nesting places for birds. Cut this meadow just once each year, and let the remainder of the lawn grow 3 to 4 inches tall before cutting. Avoid lawn pesticides and wasteful sprinklers.


And very important: Keep your cats indoors, for the safety of both the birds and your cat. There are about 100 million pet and stray cats in the United States. They kill hundreds of millions of birds each year, especially in the spring when young songbirds are fledging, often on or near the ground. I love my cat, and he stays outdoors during the day in warm weather, so I’m not bad-mouthing cats. It’s sad, but true, that cats kill a lot of birds.


Bird-food plants

For Seed-eaters





Lettuce, let it bolt and go to seed






Grasses, especially Switchgrass (Panicum species), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum), and Sea Oats (Chasmanthum)



For Berry-eaters

Oregon grape (native)

Snowberry (native)

Thimbleberry (native)

Salmonberry (native)

Dogwood (native and non-native)

Currant (native and cultivated)


Elderberry (native and cultivated)



Indian Plum (native)

Kinnickinnnick (native)

Serviceberry (native)

And of course all the fruits we love and may or may not want to share!







Hummingbird Nectar Plants

Anything with flowers that are tubular or have a spur in back

Agastache Penstemon

Columbine Red Hot Poker

Pansy and violet Salvia

Fuchsia Trumpet Vine

Honeysuckle and many more

Lobelia, annual and perennial