We think of our backyards as our retreat, our playground, or an additional entertainment space for our home. The natural environment of trees, flowering plants, and shrubs that surround a deck, lawn, or patio offer a needed break from the stresses of work, the worries of parenting, and the news of the world.

But your backyard offers solace to animals, too. Some you may never see, as they come out only at night. Others add color, beauty, and even entertainment to your outdoor living space. Among these is the great variety of birds you can attract to your property. Watching birds can distract you from worries, entertain you for hours, and relax you after a tough day at work. To maximize the enjoyment you get from birds, learn what features to include in your backyard bird sanctuary.

Like human beings, birds need the basics: food, shelter, and water. But there are details about these things that bird lovers should know to create a welcoming habitat.


Birdhouses decorated with artist-designed images add color and attractiveness to your backyard while providing shelter for nesting birds. Take some time to notice what species of birds frequent your area and erect birdhouses at the proper height and with the right-sized entrance hole to offer them shelter.

Birds also love to nest in dead trees. Naturalizing your landscape by allowing dead trees to remain, if it is safe to do so, also provides shelter for some bird species. Standing dead trees, called “snags,” offer shelter to nesting birds and those seeking refuge from bad weather. They attract woodpeckers to feed on the insects that chew on the dead wood. Consult a professional arborist to ensure that it would be safe to leave a dead tree, or the lower portion of it, standing in your yard.

Consider the presence of predators when you decide where to put your birdhouses. The most dangerous predator for birds is your pet cat. Cats kill billions of birds worldwide every year. Keep your cat inside, and don’t think that a bell around its neck will provide safety for visiting birds. Your cat is fast when it wants to kill a bird.




Add an art pole birdbath and watch the fun as flocks of robins (sometimes called a round, a rabble, or a riot) splash away, or as the more timid sparrows and goldfinches flit in to take their turn. Remember to change the water daily and clean the birdbath regularly with a mild solution of water and vinegar (about nine parts water to one part vinegar) to help prevent the spread of disease.

Misters and water features also attract birds. You can add a fountain to provide you with the soothing sound of burbling water, and the fountain may also attract birds to enjoy the relief of cool water on a hot day.



Some birds need a hanging feeder—either a suet feeder or a feeder with perches attached. Others feed on the ground. Either way, you should have a plan to deter squirrels, chipmunks, and mice that can decimate your supply of bird seed. Some feeders claim to be squirrel proof, but if yours isn’t, hang it on a pole that squirrels can’t climb or reach from nearby branches.

It’s especially important to keep feeders clean and birdfeed dry. Otherwise, you could unwittingly feed birds moldy seed or cause them to spread diseases to each other.

Use high-quality seed targeted toward the species you wish to attract. Specialty suppliers have a better choice of species-specific feed that doesn’t contain seeds and grains that birds don’t like.

Some birds, especially hummingbirds, are attracted to bright, flower-like colors. Provide homemade nectar in a hummingbird feeder and surround it with garden art that bursts with floral colors, and you may be rewarded with a visit from an exquisite species of hummingbird on its migratory journey!

If you share your local environment with bears, know that they love black oil sunflower seeds! Supply only as much feed as the birds will consume in a day, so the feeder is empty at night, when bears usually make their raids. Bring the feeder inside at night if you must.

Add Native Plants and Eliminate Invasive Species

The trend in gardening has been toward restoring native species and eliminating non-native and invasive species. Birds that are year-round residents, as well as migratory birds, come to expect that their habitats will offer a consistent type of vegetation that will provide seeds and attract a diversity of insects as food sources. Others are perfectly happy feeding on berries and seeds from non-native species, but this only helps proliferate invasive plants that choke out other native vegetation.

You can look up native species and identify invasive ones for your area online. The National Wildlife Federation and the United States Department of Agriculture maintain lists of native and invasive or noxious species to help you determine what should and shouldn’t be in your yard. Plant trees and shrubs that provide shelter and a hiding place from predators for the birds that visit your yard.

That said, don’t be too hard on native weeds. You may have heard about the “No Mow May” movement that began in the United Kingdom and first caught on in the US in Appleton, Wisconsin. The idea is to let the grass grow for the month of May, to give pollinators, especially bees, and other insects that emerge from underground winter burrows in the spring the chance to get established and thrive.

An unmown lawn turns up many surprises. In addition to rare species of birds, you may discover plants some consider weeds that are actually beneficial to pollinators and insects. But sure to consult those lists of noxious and poisonous weeds. If something you don’t recognize turns up, use a plant identification app to figure out what it is and whether it is poisonous or otherwise undesirable. Carefully remove “volunteer” plants that show up out of the blue that could otherwise cause harm to wildlife, pets, or people.

Avoid Pesticides and Herbicides

When you create a pollinator garden or work to reestablish native plants, don’t destroy their benefit by dousing your property with pesticides and herbicides. Killing the insects that attract and feed birds is counterproductive, and weed killers kill fragile native plants, too. Avoid these poisons if you possibly can, and rely on nature to balance bugs, birds, and animals.


Finally, be sure you have included a comfortable place to sit to watch the birds you’ve worked so hard to attract to your backyard. There’s no sense in adding features that belong in a backyard bird sanctuary if you can’t sit down and enjoy the habitat you’ve created!

Backyard Bird Sanctuary Infographic