You can’t just throw a little bird seed out once in a while and expect to attract birds. And don’t put up a house appropriate for cardinals if you don’t even have cardinals in your region.
So where to begin? Start simple. There are some basic things that all birds need and like.
Water Birds must have water year round for drinking and bathing, and a birdbath as a good way to start. Empty it every few days in the summer and fill with fresh water. Do NOT put antifreeze in the water in winter! I shouldn’t have to say that you will kill the birds. There are birdbath heaters available for winter. Put your birdbath near evergreens or trees so the birds can take cover quickly when a predator approaches, but not right near shrubs where a predator (cat!) can hide and pounce quickly.
Insecticides Do not use insecticides in your yard. You are not only killing a major food source for the birds, but the birds may eat freshly sprayed insects. Look into natural remedies if you have serious insect problems.
Plants Certain birds enjoy certain plants, but start simple. Use a variety of plants that produce seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Native plants are idea, they are what your native birds are used to. Birds will also enjoy a variety of shrubs and trees for rest, shelter, and refuge from predators. Expand your planting areas and reduce lawn, which provides nothing for birds. Add grasses, nectar producing plants, summer fruiting plants, shrubs with winter berries and trees with nuts or acorns.
Nesting Material Birds will use a variety of materials for nesting. Allow a little space in a corner of your landscape to accumulate logs, plant trimmings and brush. A brush pile will accumulate insects for food and nesting places for some birds.
Nesting Boxes There are basic nesting boxes and bird houses that many birds will make use of. If you get more serious about attracting birds you can investigate what type of boxes to make available to attract specific birds in your region.
Roost Boxes In the colder regions, roost boxes will encourage small birds to roost together to stay warm at night. Similar to a bird house but usually larger, a roosting box has less ventilation to hold the heat. Entry holes are on the bottom so heat does not escape as easily. Interior perches allow many birds to roost.
Food Although birds will be able to find a variety of food sources in your gardens and landscape, putting up a bird feeder will supplement their food when it is scarce. Start simple with a variety mix. You can also provide specific foods that are not readily available. If you get serious about attracting specific birds you can supply specific foods that will attract them.
Grit Birds need to ingest sand or tiny bits of gritty material to help digest their food. You can supply them with sand or baked crushed eggshells (baked to kill salmonella).
What do birds give you in return?
Natural pest control
Fallen berry clean up
Many of the things that attract birds will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Here are a few more helpful hints:
Don’t start with bird feeding unless you can commit to maintaining it. Especially in winter, birds will become dependent on the feeder for their food.
Song birds can be attracted with black oil sunflower seeds, but a good variety of seed will attract a greater variety of birds.
Suet will attract woodpeckers and nuthatches. If you are concerned about woodpeckers don’t use suet, but you may be missing out on other birds you would like to attract.
Jays love peanuts and peanut butter.
Many birds like to sample fruit.
Nectar in a hummingbird feeder will of course attract hummingbirds, but also orioles and woodpeckers if the feeder is designed for birds.
Different birds like different ways of eating. Some will like tube feeders, or saucers or platforms.
Clean out bird baths, bird houses and bird feeders regularly to avoid bacteria growing on old food and debris. Rinsing with boiling water should be adequate.
Birds don’t care if the bath is pretty, a shallow pan on the garden floor is all they need. But they are attracted to the sound of running or dripping water, so they do love fountains. Or put a bubbler in your bird bath, which can help prevent freezing in milder regions. A variety of water sources will attract a greater variety of birds. Ideally your bird bath should be high enough that cats can’t reach it.
Short platforms in the birdbath will allow different species to enjoy a comfortable depth, and a couple of flat rocks will give the birds entry and exit perches.
Birdhouses and nesting boxes should be installed some distance from feeder. The activity may discourage nesting.
Don’t install birdhouses or nesting boxes too close together, birds can be territorial.
Even generic birdhouses should be adequately ventilated, top ventilation and bottom drainage. A baffled entrance will prevent larger predators from entering. And avoid perches, they can help predators get in.
Plant prickly or thorny plants around a bird feeder to discourage cats.
A mesh bag (like the bags oranges come in) hung near nesting boxes filled with bits of string, straw, hair trimmings, feathers, grasses and spent plant leaves will provide birds with a variety of nesting material. They enjoy most anything that is fluffy or stringy and they can pull the materials out through large mesh opening. Never include material that is dyed or chemically treated like dryer lint from flame retardant fabrics.
Allow a dead tree to stand unless it is diseased or poses a danger of some sort. Many birds like to nest and forage in dead trees. And use your discarded Christmas tree as an attractor, whole or cut up.
Buy your bird houses and nesting boxes from a store or dealer that specializes in bird items to get good quality, protective and appropriate houses.
Be patient when you put up new feeders or houses, the birds will be wary at first.
Position your feeders, houses and baths so that you can view the activity if possible. Then set up a little sitting area or alcove to enjoy the birds.
Find out which birds are native to your region or migrate through. Depending on the birds you want to attract, you need to know what they like to eat, how to help protect them predators, and how they prefer to nest. Different species of birds prefer specific types of nesting boxes with different holes, placement and orientation. The next couple of pages will help get you started.