Want a garden filled with beautiful birds and other beneficial pollinators? There’s several things you can do to not only attract them, but keep them safe and nurtured as well.
Every choice we make from landscaping to maintenance to providing food and water affects the health of the garden and everything that lives in it. I’ll walk you through some of the basics for a garden the birds will love. Also see, How to Hand-feed Wild Birds.
2022 Wild Bird Safety Note
Due to outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, it is strongly recommended to remove bird feeders and cease any hand-feeding at this time. This may help reduce transmission rates amongst our wild bird populations.
Ongoing, feeders should be cleaned frequently with a bleach solution. Also remove any debris from ground around feeders.
It’s a jungle out there.
It’s not easy being a bird! Or any other wild animal who is a card-carrying member of and target within the food chain, relying directly on the environment to survive.
This isn’t to say there isn’t love or affection or humor in the wild animal kingdom. Just a few quick searches on YouTube confirms this, but survival is definitely at the top of the daily To-Do list and the choices we make when attracting birds to our gardens can make or break the odds.
I always knew I wanted to be a gardener, and I grew up with a mom who loved feeding the birds, but the two never really came together for me until I had my first garden and set up a bird feeder right outside our livingroom window.
Unaware of my presence, the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, moles, voles, and the occasional homing pigeon and escaped pet parrot would descend upon the feeder and form their own little world of politics, relationships, and entertainment.
It didn’t take long until I completely understood those ‘crazy birders’ who find life at the bird feeder as engaging as any HBO series or movie on Netflix.
It really is intriguing.
Comedy, Drama, and Love
Over the years I have seen so many incredible and endearing things—all in the lives of these tiny winged creatures with fast beating hearts.
Sometimes I’ve found myself right inside their world.
I’ve been there to nurse the ones who fly into windows, put wee ones back up in their nests when the wind takes them down too soon, stop predators when I just can’t stand to be a witness, hand feed the braver ones, fall in love with particular characters who I swear really do flirt with us, and mourn the inevitable losses.
These are things I never really expected when purchasing a feeder and some seed and why I’ve continued to feed them every single year.
Yes, they would get on fine without me, but my life is richer because of them.
And with this gift comes great responsibility.
There is no sense in feeding the birds if it is not safe, healthy, or beneficial. Otherwise we’re cancelling out any good we may be doing.
Here’s how to create a garden birds love. And by love, I really mean, that (we hope) causes no harm.
Just like us, birds need food, water, and shelter.
Here are some ideas.
Shelter includes bushes, trees, and shrubs where the birds can rest (away from the immediate threat of predators), nest (where they can raise their young), and hide from threats.
These also serve as wind breaks during wild weather. If you want birds to hang around your garden, bushes, trees, and shrubs are key. Otherwise they’ll settle where there are some.
For starters, a garden has to be organic. And, by that I mean, free of added stuff toxic to living things.
Why? If we create an environment that is attractive to birds and all of the pollinators (bees, butterflies, flies, and zillions of other insects too numerous to name), but have poisons present, we’re essentially leading them to death’s door.
If you can’t garden organically, it’s better not to have a garden at all.
The point hits home if you read about the effect of neonicotinoids on bees. This is just one example from numerous hazardous products available. Pollinators like bees pick up residues wherever they land, and it takes such a tiny amount to shut down their nervous systems. It really is that fragile.
So imagine a lawn sprayed for dandelions or other weeds. It’s a killing field, really. The yellow dandelion flowers beckon the bees, and the sprays poison them. Dramatic I know, but true.
Providing nectar rich plants is key, but the entire garden needs to be poison-free to be beneficial.
3Use Proper Nesting Boxes
Birdhouses and cute bird baths are so popular but so few of them are actually safe for the birds. I love them too (as garden art) but it’s important to make the distinction between houses that will actually be used for nesting birds versus decorative items.
Nesting boxes should be made according to informed specifications for each species. I really like this book for nesting box plans.
Decorative birdhouses should be just that: decorations only. Any holes should blocked so nesting is not an option.
Because every bird has different nesting needs according to the species and size. They may try nesting in a poorly designed box but simple things like too large an entry hole invites predators like larger birds, racoons, and snakes.
Too small an entry hole and the fledglings may not actually be able to get out when it’s time to fly.
Use proper nesting boxes and you’ll get to enjoy the entire nesting and fledging process.
- Birdhouses Versus Nesting Boxes: What’s Best For Birds
- Nesting box plans and safety.
- Wren nesting box plans.
- DIY Soda bottle bird feeders.
4Don’t Allow Nesting in Decorative Birdhouses
I know, I know! Lots of people have stories of successful nests in their super cute birdhouses. And sometimes it works out. But often it does not but you might never know there’s a problem because you don’t see it happen.
Decorative bird houses often come with big entry holes and perches. Perches are an invention for caged pet birds and unsafe in the wild. Wild birds do no use perches. If they are using a hole in an old tree to nest, they fly directly into the hole. A perch is like an invitation for predators to stand, assess, and dine.
If you want birds to nest in your garden, learn about the best nesting boxes to use.
If you want decorative birdhouses, get as creative as you like but protect the birds by blocking off the holes so they can’t nest in them.
This has more tips for keeping decorative birdhouses versus actual nesting boxes.
5Create Safe Water Feeders and Baths
We call them ‘bird baths’ but the name is really too literal. Most birds, with the exception of water fowl, do not bathe, per se. If you watch a songbird bathe, you’ll see they stand by the water and splash it onto themselves. They don’t actually submerge their bodies or swim.
A bird bath that does not have a secure, shallow or dry area to stand or the water is too deep (more than 2″), is an invitation to drowning. And yes, birds drown in bird baths. They do not have the resources to right themselves if plunged into water, and, more often then not, it probably ends badly.
If you have a decorative birdbath, you can probably adapt it so it’s much safer for the birds. And change the water frequently so it’s always fresh and clean.
- How to have a safe bird bath or water feeder.
- DIY bird and butterfly water feeder. This water feeder is very popular in my garden!
- How to Clean Bird Feeders the Right Way
6Use Quality Seed and Feeders
Besides providing good quality feed appropriate for the birds in your region, the feeders should also be safe.
It’s worth asking at a reputable feed store for advice on how to place your feeders so the birds will feel secure.
As for the actual feeders, some designs cause birds to become trapped or entangled, or block their view from predators due to the design or location.
Open bird feeders that expose the seed to the elements can cause contamination of the feed with molds or fungi.
It’s also essential to keep your feeder clean to prevent the spread of disease. This tells you how.
Good feeders are well-worth the investment (if you can manage it). Not only can they keep squirrels from gobbling up all the seed, but they keep the food dry. Rickety feeders or ones in the wrong locations can make the birds very skittish. That wastes a lot of energy!
These are just a few examples of why you want to choose your bird accessories carefully. I’m all in favour of decorative garden art, but just don’t try and combine it with functional items for bird feeding and nesting.
And there you have it.
You’ll have a garden birds will love if you:
- Provide a good habitat with trees and shrubs and minimize predator stress.
- Grow organically.
- Distinguish between garden art birdhouses and nesting boxes.
- Use good quality bird seed and feeders.
- And keep water sources safe and clean.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛