It takes more than a feeder and a birdbath to make your yard truly bird-friendly. Birds need a complete habitat that provides food, shelter, nesting areas, and singing posts from which to defend their territories.
A Bird Pantry
Birds get their food not only from the fruits of plants but from their buds, flowers, and nectar. You may want to select plants that provide food in each of these ways.
Select plants to provide food for birds in every season. Fruits ripen in different seasons. Plants with spring-ripening fruits that feed new parent birds include serviceberries, wild cherries, and mulberries. In fall, migrating birds look for the fatty, ripening fruits of spicebush, magnolia, sassafras, and flowering dogwood. Other plants bear fruits that persist through the winter providing an important source of nutrients when the ground is covered with snow. These plants include nannyberry, sumac, hawthorn, and crabapple.
Not all berries are consumed by all bird species. In some cases, fruits may be too large for a bird to swallow. Use a diversity of plant species to attract more birds.
Concentrate on Native Plants
Emphasize native trees, shrubs, and vines. Native plants and birds have evolved side-by-side over thousands of years. Native plants are more likely to provide the right mix, size, and nutritional values that birds in our area require.
By incorporating native habitats into our landscapes, we create natural corridors for birds to pass back and forth through their natural ranges. This is especially important for areas that have been impacted by development.
Avoid exotic, invasive species. Some exotic species, like buckthorn or Japanese honeysuckle, provide abundant fruit for birds; however, they tend to crowd out native species over time, robbing birds and other animals of the diverse mix of plants needed for food and shelter.
Take a Cue From Nature
Plant in drifts. If you look to nature, you’ll discover that in the wild, plants usually occur in groups. This promotes cross-pollination, boosts fertility (and, therefore, fruit yield), and makes it easier for migrating birds to spot ripening fruits.
Consider vertical layers. Natural areas tend to have vertical layers, each attracting and providing something important to different bird species. Some birds prefer the canopy of tall trees. Others perch in the understory trees. Many build nests in shrubs, while still others find shelter and nesting materials in vines and ground covers. Try to create as many of these layers as possible in your backyard bird refuge.
Plant at least one grouping of conifers. These plants provide year-round windbreaks, shelter, and nesting sites.
Leave a dead tree or some dead branches on living trees. As long as the branches or tree aren’t in danger of falling on people, buildings, or power lines, these make excellent perches and singing posts for birds. Many birds also like to nest in the cavities of dead trees or branches.