How to Attract Birds

Three Methods:Providing FoodCreating Nesting SpotsMaking Your Yard More Inviting

While songbirds like finches, sparrows, bluebirds, and others are a colorful and musical delight, these birds are becoming rarer as their natural habitat dwindles. However, you can help as a bird lover and homeowner by turning your backyard into a safe haven for all of your favorites. Birdseed, a birdbath, and safe nesting spots will make your yard much more inviting, and you will be amazed at how many different species you can attract.

Method 1
Providing Food

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    Research birds in your area. Find out what types of birds live in your area or are likely to come to your property through migration. You may want to obtain a field guide to the area in order to know which birds to attract. Aim to create an environment that can support many different species. Bear in mind that you can attract different species depending on the season, as well.[1]
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    Choose a bird feeder. The type of feeder you choose will influence what bird species you attract. No matter what, your bird feeder should have a few essential qualities: it should be difficult for squirrels to access, it should keep food dry, and it should be easy to clean. Bird feeders need to be washed out regularly so the food inside remains free of fungi and disease.[2] The most common types of feeders include:
    • Tray feeders. Tray feeders are simple, flat trays that allow birds very easy access to seed. The downside is that seed is also accessible to squirrels and unprotected from the weather.
    • House feeders. These keep seed in a contained area and dispense it as the birds feed from a small tray at the bottom of the feeder.
    • Window feeders. Window feeders attach to your window with suction cups, offering a full view of bird activity. They will attract birds like chickadees, finches, and some kinds of sparrows.
    • Suet feeders. Suet feeders are designed to offer suet cakes, which attract different birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.
    • Tube feeders. To attract hummingbirds, use a tube feeder. These dispense sugar water through a tube.
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    Provide seed and other food. Birds will be attracted to your yard if you offer them food. However, there are certain things to keep in mind. Do you know what species you are hoping to attract? If you would like to invite a wide range of native species, it's a good idea to have more than one type of feeder and to offer a variety of food. You will inevitably bring less desirable birds – common sparrow, pigeon, or crow – but with good seed choice you can maximize your target birds.[3]
    • Corn is a favorite among nearly all birds but is to be used sparingly -- it will attract all sorts of animals. It is also important to be careful about the source of the corn, since cheap corn can be contaminated with pesticides that are toxic to birds.
    • Sunflower seeds are popular among all seed-eating birds, which makes them a good choice if you want a variety of species. However, the shells must be raked up frequently. Sunflower seeds will also tempt squirrels.
    • White proso millet is a tasty treat for cardinals, quail, sparrows, doves, and crows. It is also attractive to house sparrows and other animals. Hummingbirds love to drink sugar water, meanwhile, and safflower seeds are good for attracting cardinals, chickadees, doves, sparrows, and grosbeaks.
    • Suet, the fat around cow and sheep organs, attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, jays, and starlings. Peanut butter makes a good winter food, since it is highly nutritious. Just make sure that it doesn't contain additives.
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    Know what foods to avoid. Birds can easily be poisoned by food that is contaminated or contains hard-to-digest ingredients. Be sure to buy high-quality seed or suet. Some cheap manufacturers of bird food cut corners, so consider springing for a more expensive brand. Here are a few foods to avoid putting out:
    • Bread, crackers, or other processed carbohydrates do not offer birds much nutritional value and can have toxic ingredients. Bacon drippings or other meats can meanwhile contain harmful nitrates. Both may end up attracting mice and rats instead.[4]
    • Cheap feeds often contain “filler seeds” that are not eaten like red millet, golden millet, oats, and flax. Be sure to check the ingredients in purchased feed.
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    Install the feeder in a safe location. If you want the feeder to be near enough for you to view it from your house, place it within three feet of your window. Placing it further away is dangerous for birds, since they are more likely to collide with a window (a situation that kills millions of birds every year). The feeder should also be far enough away from tree cover to prevent squirrels from reaching the feeder from a tree.[5]
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    Maintain the feeder. It is important to change the food frequently and clean the feeder with soap and water every few weeks. Otherwise, bird droppings, fungus, and bacteria can contaminate the feeder and the food, potentially sickening birds. Be particularly vigilant during wet weather, when damp food is more susceptible to mold. For the same reason, and because it attracts undesirable animals, food that has fallen to the ground should be cleared away.[6]
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    Provide grit. Birds lack teeth and many instead rely on an organ called a gizzard to digest food. To work properly the gizzard needs grit – bits of sand, gravel, or other small stones. You can help by offering insoluble grit (e.g. small pieces of gravel) or soluble grit (like cuttlebone, crushed oyster shell, or crushed eggshell). Eggshell serves a dual purpose by giving the birds calcium needed for egg-laying.[7]

Method 2
Creating Nesting Spots

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    Plant native trees, shrubs and plants. Use a local field guide or call your local Audubon Society chapter (if you live in the United States) to find out what grows naturally in your region, and add these plants to your garden. Native trees, shrubs, and plants are more likely to attract birds than non-native trees, shrubs, and plants. A variety of native trees, shrubs, and grasses will also provide natural shelter and cover for birds.[8]
    • Evergreen trees and shrubs like hollies make great homes for birds over the winter.
    • Many birds are attracted to fruit and berries, so consider planting an apple tree or planting a blueberry bush.
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    Build a birdhouse or nesting box. Different species nest in different places, so it is a good idea to conduct research on the type of bird you wish to attract. If you plan to buy a birdhouse or build a nesting box, take note that boxes with different holes, shapes, and orientations will attract different species. Such a box can be mounted to a tree or hung from a pole. Make sure that the box is up no later than February if you are in a southerly location; if in the north, hang it in March.[9]
    • Make sure that your nest site has adequate ventilation and is supplied with a "baffle" and reinforcement ring at the opening. This will prevent predators from entering.
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    Create a nesting site using natural materials. If you would like to create a more natural nesting spot, an easy way to do it is to allow your yard to grow a bit more wild. Let the grass grow in a certain spot or build a brush pile. This simulates the type of habitat where birds nest in the wild. You might alternately heap branches into a large pile or create sites under your bushes by raking mulch around the base.[10]
    • Consider supply nesting material such as string, hair, or other fibers, or stuff mesh bags with pieces of yarn or string, straw, pet fur, small bits of cloth, or anything else that a bird might use to nest.
    • Don't remove dead trees unless they are a danger. Standing dead trees are important nesting and foraging spots for many species, especially woodpeckers, which eat the insects that infest dead trees.

Method 3
Making Your Yard More Inviting

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    Provide a water source. Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping or moving water. You can buy a birdbath or create a shallow pond with a fountain. Make sure it is close to the ground and not made of slippery material. If you are short on time or resources, hang a water-filled container with a hole on the bottom above a dish. Try not to place the water source near trees or bushes where cats might hide. Also, make sure the water is not more than 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.[11]
    • Consider using a heated water source during the winter. For the sake of sanitation, find a bath that is easy to clean. Ensure that the water does not become stagnant or harbor algae.[12]
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    Avoid pesticides. Pesticides are harmful to birds in more ways than one. First, they kill vital sources of food for some species. Second, the chemicals in the pesticides can be dangerous for birds to ingest. In order to attract birds to your property, use natural forms of insect control instead of chemicals on your lawn, trees, and shrubs.[13]
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    Keep cats and other predators away. Cats, snakes, raccoons, and rats prey on songbirds or their eggs, killing millions every year. No matter how hospitable your yard may seem, having a cat prowling around will act as a disincentive. Keep your cat away from feeding, drinking, and nesting areas if you are seriously interested attracting birds. Hole restrictors, baffles, and tube entrances are good ways to secure birdhouses. Mounting the the house well above ground and using predator repellent are two added safeguards.[14]


  • Keep your feeders, houses, and water sources clean.
  • Don't be discouraged if birds don't immediately come to your sanctuary. Birds are often wary of changes in their environment and will take time to adjust to the new feeder or bath.
  • If you don't have the motivation, time, or resources to create a bird sanctuary in your yard, you can always contribute to a "communal" bird sanctuary. Donate money and/or volunteer hours to conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy that buys tracts of land and saves them from development.
  • Don't rake the leaves. Birds will forage for insects hiding under dead leaves in the spring.


  • Avoid disturbing eggs or nest if you come across them.
  • Never add antifreeze to a birdbath during winter. Antifreeze is highly toxic and will kill any bird, animal, or pet that drinks it, and can cause severe damage or death in humans as well. You can buy heaters designed to defrost ponds, fountains, or birdbaths. Floating a tennis ball in the water will also allow you to break and remove ice easily.
  • Your nest boxes should not be too close together. Birds can be territorial and over-proximity can lead to conflicts.

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