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House finches love feeding on the seeds of my perennials.

The secret to attracting birds to your yard is to learn to see it from a bird’s point of view.

To start with, is your yard just a sea of lawn grass or does it offer everything that a bird will need to live?

Now, lawns aren’t sooo bad, as long as you don’t spray them with toxic chemicals (and if you do, please don’t try to invite birds into your yard!). Certain birds will make use of them, mostly starlings, grackles and robins that come to feed on the few creatures found there, like earthworms. There may even be a few flickers if you let the ant colonies alone. But most birds have little to no affinity for lawns and will avoid yards where lawns dominate.

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Trees, shrubs, perennials… this environment is starting to look good to many birds.

Border your lawn with flowerbeds and suddenly birds start to find your yard more interesting. They’ll come to drink nectar from your flowers (hummingbirds), pick insects off the plants and eat the seeds that follow the blooms (provided you don’t deadhead… and you really shouldn’t remove faded flowers if your goal is to attract birds). So, you’re now offering a wider range of foods, which is great, but… flowerbeds alone offer little in the way of shelter and nesting spots for most birds. And where will your bird visitors sleep? Many prefer to be well off the ground and thus out of the range of predators before they let their guard down and nod off.

So go further and add woody plants… of all sizes. Ideally you’ll want at least a few taller trees for birds that like to nest or sleep well off the ground, shrubs for birds that like to nest lower down… and many shrubs also offer beautiful berries for birds to eat. And don’t neglect conifers either. They supply for shelter from bad weather and their cones are also a food source for many birds.

Add to that a source of water (even just a dish left out so it can catch rainwater will do) and you’ll find you’ve created a wide range of environments that will attract any equally wide range of birds.

Food Plants for Birds

Here are three lists of plants that birds love to eat and that you can try to squeeze into your garden. The first list is of plants for seed-eating birds, the second of plants for fruit-eating birds and the final one, of flowers that feed hummingbirds.

Bird Feeders

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Goldfinches love niger seed.

For gardeners a little more hard-working than me, bird feeders can also attract birds to your yard. In fact, several feeders, each with one kind of food (sunflower, millet, niger, suet, etc.), will tend to attract a wider variety of birds than a single feeder offering mixed seeds. And in summer, install (and clean regularly) hummingbird feeders.

Personally, however, I don’t use feeders. I find that I draw a wide variety of birds on my property without them… and my “bird garden au naturel” (so called because I pretty much let it grow on its own) requires less maintenance.

Cleanliness is Next to Birdlessness

And finally, one last thing you need to consider if you want to attract birds: do as little “cleanup” as possible. Whenever you start picking up “debris” from you garden (faded flowers, seed pods, fall leaves, etc.), you’re making your yard less interesting to birds. It’s like yanking the welcome mat from your front door: you’re saying “Go away! There is nothing for you here!”

Sometimes you have to let Mother Nature do her thing: she knows better what to do than you!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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