Birds have excellent vision and see colors very well, even better than humans' vision, but how can birders take advantage of birds' color sense? Choosing the best colors to attract birds can add beauty to the yard and encourage more species to visit.
Why Birds See Color
Color is important to many bird species, and they rely on color clues in their environment in several ways.
- Bright plumage colors indicate a mature, healthy bird that will be a strong mate.
- Molting to brighter colors indicates the onset of the bird breeding season.
- Colorful markings can be warnings against plant toxins or strong predators.
- Brightly colored fruit is ripe and ready to eat at the peak of its nutritious content.
- Bright flowers are filled with nectar and will attract insects for another food source.
- Changing foliage colors can indicate changing seasons and time for migration.
Because birds are so attuned to colors, adding the right colors to your yard can be a creative and beautiful way to attract birds, particularly in late fall and winter when less natural color may be available.
Best Colors to Attract Birds
Different birds are attracted to different colors. Individual bird species may see the “best” colors as indicating a food source. Other birds may be more attracted to the colors of their own plumage as those could indicate a potential mate or another bird that is surviving well. Most bright colors, however, can be used to attract many different birds, with certain bird species being more attracted to particular shades.
- Red and Pink: Hummingbirds
- Orange: Orioles, hummingbirds
- Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds
- Blue: Bluebirds, jays
Natural camouflage colors such as gray, brown, and green are excellent choices to attract birds with more nervous temperaments, such as doves, quail, thrushes, and other ground feeders. These earth tone shades represent security and safety, which are attractive to more skittish bird species.
The One Color to Avoid
While most bright colors are attractive to birds, one color, in particular, should be avoided as much as possible: white signals alarm, danger, and aggression to many birds. In fact, many birds use white in their plumage as a warning, such as the white flash of a dark-eyed junco's tail feathers or the white patch on a northern mockingbird's wings. Adding a lot of white to the yard will not attract birds, but could very well warn them away.
Using Color to Attract Birds
There are many ways to add both natural and artificial color sources to your yard to attract birds to the beautiful shades. Landscaping with colorful flowers, trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses is one of the best options. Many plants that have these bright colors will also provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for birds, making them even more useful for bird-friendly landscaping.
When choosing plants, opt for the most colorful varieties, and choose cultivars that have both early and late-lasting color so they will attract birds as long as possible. Also investigate the colors of any fruit produced by the plants or autumn changes in foliage color to choose the best options for natural color to attract birds in all seasons. If a garden or flowerbeds are not available, consider adding colorful plants to large containers, porch pots, or window boxes instead, and change them seasonally for the most vibrant shades.
Birders who want to add an artificial touch of color to their yards have many options for supplementing natural plantings with a rainbow burst that can attract birds.
- Add a colored gazing ball or mosaic ball in the yard, preferably near a bird feeder or bath.
- Paint fences or garden sheds in bright colors, using non-toxic paints for wildlife safety.
- Opt for colorful bird feeders, or add colored ribbons or artificial flowers to decorate feeders.
- Paint other yard objects in bright colors, such as pots, benches, trellises, or arbors.
- Choose decorative items with touches of color birds will find attractive, such as walkway accent stones, wind chimes, statues, or other novelties.
It does not take much color to attract birds, but be sure the colorful accents will be visible from the sky. A beautiful piece of color hidden under a thick tree or deep inside bushes will not attract as many birds as one that will be visible as they fly nearby. Similarly, avoid colorful objects that move frequently, such as spinning pinwheels, flags, or windsocks, because the constant movement can scare away birds. Color placed near bird feeding stations or bird baths can be more effective because it will help lead the birds to items they need, and once they find those resources, they will be more likely to stay.
Keeping Color in Perspective
While color can attract birds to the yard, it is important to understand that color alone will not keep birds visiting. Use color to catch birds' attention, but provide good food, fresh water, secure shelter, nesting sites, and bird-friendly landscaping to encourage birds to stay. Once birds find your colorful, bird-friendly yard, you'll discover that their plumage adds an even more welcome touch of color to the landscape.
Landscape to Attract Birds to Your Yard. Penn State University Extension