If you're looking to attract local birds to your lawn to help control garden pests or fulfill your birdwatching habit, consider filling their bellies. The way to a bird’s heart truly is through its stomach, and it’s exceptionally easy to attract birds with food. By understanding what birds eat and the best foods to entice them, birders can attract a wide variety of species to their backyard buffet.
What Birds Eat
Different bird species have different dietary needs and feeding preferences, so understanding what birds surround your area and what they eat is the first step toward attracting them with food. The different types of foods most birds naturally eat include insects (worms, grubs, and mosquitos), plant material (seeds, grasses, flowers), small berries or fruit, and nuts. Larger birds like hawks and vultures may also eat small animals like rodents and snakes.
The exact diet of a bird can also depend on its nutritional needs, which can vary from season to season. Offering the foods birds need most during that time of year is the best way to attract them, and watching how birds forage in the yard is a great way to learn what foods they prefer. Birders can also visit a local wild bird store for recommendations to get started feeding birds, and assistance may be available from groups such as the National Audubon Society.
Natural Foods for Birds
Providing natural food sources in your yard is an ideal way to attract birds to your property without needing to constantly refill feeders or purchase seed. Planning the best bird-friendly landscaping can be expensive, but choosing plants to provide food for birds may actually save money in the long run, as the plants will grow more food year after year with minimal care.
The most popular natural food sources for birds include:
- Flowers: Adding seed-bearing flowers or hummingbird flowers to flowerbeds will readily attract birds. Choose perennial varieties for long-lasting growth and a stable food source year after year, and opt for a range of flowers in different colors and heights to create an attractive and bountiful landscape. Some flowers that birds love include sunflowers, coneflowers, cosmos, butterfly weed, zinnias, and more.
- Trees: The sap, buds, nuts, fruits, and seeds produced by trees can all be plentiful food sources for birds. There are many types of coniferous and deciduous trees that can feed birds, and fruit trees are some of the most popular choices because humans can snack on the fruit as well. Trees to consider for your yard include crabapple, black cherry, oak, and dogwood.
- Shrubs: Like trees, shrubs that produce flowers, berries, or seeds can be delicious bird food sources. Additionally, shrubs can be a better landscaping choice for smaller yards or restricted areas where trees would not grow as well.
- Insects: Minimize pesticide use in bird-friendly landscaping to give your feathered friends the opportunity to feed on grubs, ants, aphids, gnats, and flying insects. Many gardeners quickly learn that birds can be a more effective form of pest control than any chemicals, and nearby plants will benefit from the natural treatment.
Supplemental Bird Food
It is not always possible to provide sufficient natural food sources for birds, especially in small yards, heavily developed areas, or when landscaping projects may be too expensive. Adding bird feeders and supplemental food sources is a great way to provide more food variety for local birds and cater where they feed for the best bird watching.
The most popular way to provide supplemental food for birds is through a dedicated feeding station. There are many types of bird feeders to choose from, including hopper, tube, and platform designs, as well as specialized feeders for foods like fruit, jelly, or nectar. No special feeder is necessary, however—birds will readily accept food from a simple plate or even sprinkled on the ground. Using a variety of different feeders will attract more birds, as will using a variety of different foods. The most popular supplemental foods to offer birds include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Safflower seeds
- Mixed birdseed
- Peanut butter
- Cracked corn
It is also possible to offer birds kitchen scraps such as excess fruit, vegetables, cheese, and even some types of bread or bread-like products. While birds will happily eat these scraps, it's important to remember that they often have less nutritional value than wild bird foods and thus should only be offered as rare, limited treats rather than making up the bulk of a bird’s diet.
Tips for Arranging Bird Food
Birds will readily visit your yard if food is available, but if you have difficulty attracting birds with food, there are more steps you can take to catch their attention with your dining options.
- Offer a wide variety of both natural and supplemental foods to appeal to different bird species and provide well-rounded nutrition.
- Take steps to attract birds to new feeders when you change food sources or add more feeders to your yard so they can learn to recognize the new food.
- Clean your bird feeders regularly, including ground feeding stations and underneath the feeding area to eliminate the buildup of seed hulls or feces that can lead to contamination and disease outbreaks.
- Use baffles or other techniques to make your bird feeders squirrel-resistant so the birds are not crowded out by hungry critters.
While birds will be easily attracted by food, they need more than reliable meals to consider your yard a suitable habitat. Add a water source, appropriate shelter, and nesting sites to your property to meet all of a bird’s basic survival needs, giving them no reason to leave.