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Attracting Birds

A reader writes: We used to have lots of birds at our
feeder, but since we moved to a new house we don't
get many any more. What do I do to get the birds to come to my feeder?
Minnie P., Minot, ND

shim shim

Diane's reply:

American Goldfinches#1. Time. It takes time. Time for the birds to discover your offerings. While you're waiting, you can start working on making your yard more attractive to birds. That brings us to...

#2. Shelter. Birds need shelter. Look at it from their of view. Birds are scared to fly across a big expanse of lawn, even if there is a feeder in the middle of it. They don't like to be exposed. Something might like to make a meal of them.

Birds like to spend time where they have a quick retreat. That habit could save a bird's life if a cat jumps at them, or a hawk swoops down from the sky.

Baltimore Oriole in a TreeSo the first rule of making your yard attractive is to provide shelter. Birds are more willing to approach your feeder if they can bounce back into the leafy arms of a tree.

There are many kinds of trees and shrubs that are especially good for attracting birds. Which trees you get depend on the climate where you are. Consult a nursery in your local area for advice about which trees will attract birds and other wildlife in your area. Or call your state Department of Natural Resources. They're got loads of information about native trees that will enhance your yard's value to birds.

It takes a few years for a tree to come into its own. But those years are going to pass, whether you're growing trees or not. Might as well get started. A tree will start attracting birds within a couple, and from on then they just get better and better.

Shrubs are faster yet and will start attracting birds in their first or second year.

#3. Variety. To maximize the number of species that accept your hospitality, offer different kinds of feed, at different heights. It's nice to clothe your yard in a wardrobe of bird feeders.

Some birds like to feed on the ground, like this white-throated sparrow. For juncos, other sparrows, cardinals, and doves, you can simply scatter seed on the ground or on your patio.

Black-capped ChickadeeOther birds prefer a loftier perch. Many birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice, are delighted to visit swinging snacks.

The feeder at right was made from a coconut shell by my father. He hollowed it out, left it outside for the ants to clean it up nicely, and then he twisted wire around it to keep it from breaking and to provide a hook.

Hanging feeders are popular because you can hang them from a tree, from the under side of your eaves, or from a wire pole you sink into the lawn. (Such poles are often available economically from hardware stores and garden centers.) There are many excellent hanging feeders designed to attract birds. Many also deter squirrels.

You also want a variety of foods. A good start is blackoil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, nyger seeds for goldfinches (like in the feeder shown at the top of the page).

Suet basketYou will soon be enjoying the antics of woodpeckers (like the downy woodpecker at left) if you hang some suet from a tree that you can watch from your window

Offer grape jelly for orioles, in special jelly feeders just for them. Or try a feeder mounted to your window, that lets you watch birds up close. You can get a very inexpensive one that attaches with suction cups. Or a deluxe In-house Feeder that actually brings the birds right into your house.

Offer sugar water for hummingbirds. (Here's the recipe.)

And of course, water...

#4. Water. It's the true elixir of life. You can attract birds with water that will never come to birdseed. And the best water of all is moving water. Unless your house is built over a stream we suggest you add a bath to your bird-friendly features.

#5. Stepping stones. I don't mean cement stepping stones. If there are big trees at the edge of your yard, or you're lucky enough to live next to a wooded wash, you can entice the birds up closer to your house by planting shrubs at strategic spots. The shrubs let the birds approach your feeders step by step, without being exposed over a long distance.

You'll be able to entice shy woodland birds this way, such as catbirds, thrushes, and maybe even some unusual visitors to feeders, such as indigo or lazuli buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and white-winged crossbills.

Fill your feeders. Watch. You will be rewarded, and so will the birds!

— Copyright 2007 Diane Porter

— Pictures copyright 2007 Michael and Diane Porter

Birdwatching Dot Com

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A pretty feeder for hummingbirds

Feeders for woodpeckers

Offering a Bath
to the Birds