All About Birdscaping

Landscaping With Birds in Mind

Birdscaped Yard With Bird Bath

Tony Alter/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Birdscaping is landscaping that deliberately keeps birds in mind with plants, layouts and other features to attract birds. The best birdscaping meets all of birds' basic needs for food, water, shelter and nesting sites in natural ways, though supplemental features may also be included.

What Turns Landscaping Into Birdscaping?

It takes more than just adding a bird feeder or two, hanging a bird house or putting a bird bath in the garden to turn a landscape into a birdscape. For a true birdscape, every aspect or nearly every aspect of the lawn, garden and other landscaping should be designed and cared for with deliberate attention to attracting and nurturing birds.

Key features of birdscaping include:

  • Using locally native plants that birds will more easily recognize for food and shelter
  • Deliberately eliminating non-native, exotic or invasive plants that provide no benefits for birds
  • Choosing plants that perform multiple tasks, such as providing both food and nesting sites
  • Lessening the amount of lawn in favor of layered plants and more naturalized areas
  • Choosing landscaping layouts and plants that promote responsible water usage
  • Including suitable water features that will be helpful to birds without wasting water
  • Minimizing or eliminating chemical use to keep the landscape as native as possible
  • Taking deliberate steps to discourage cats or other predators and safeguard birds

Birdscaped yards often feature thick clumps or beds of plants that provide secure shelter for a variety of birds at different heights. Multiple types of plants—trees, shrubs, flowers, vines, grasses and more—are essential for the best birdscaping. In addition to the natural plants and features, bird feeders, bird baths, bird houses and other supplements are often popular and help attract even more backyard birds. Decorative accents can also be used, such as a gazing ball, wind chimes or other fun ornaments, often in colors that will attract birds.

Another important part of birdscaping is ensuring there is room to accommodate birders as well as birds. Simple pathways, a relaxed seating area, a hidden bench with a good view of a feeding station - these are all great options to ensure you are able to enjoy the birds you've designed the landscaping for.

Caring for Birdscaping

Birdscaped yards are not always neat or excessively cultivated. Less pruning provides better habitat for birds, and leaving leaf litter in place or not dead heading flowerbeds also provides food and shelter for birds at different times of year. Dead trees may be left in place when they can remain safe, and extra features such as a brush pile may be added as well. When the lawn needs to be mowed, it should be done in a way that is inviting to birds and helps sustain turf that birds will use.

Chemicals should be nearly if not entirely absent from thoughtful birdscaping. Because native plants are used and allowed to grow naturally, fewer chemicals are required to ensure healthy growth. The birds that visit the yard provide natural pest control for unwanted insects, and raptors and owls will control rodents and other prey.

Supplemental watering is often used in birdscaping to ensure plants are reaching their full potential, but that too, can be minimized in a thoughtful landscape design. Choosing water-wise plants or xeriscaping the yard to accommodate low-moisture conditions is a great way to minimize water use and be welcoming for birds that thrive in drier habitats.

Birdscaping Your Yard

Birdscaping projects can be large or small, costly or inexpensive. Before beginning any birdscaping project, check with homeowner associations, community guidelines or other local authorities for restrictions on landscaping. Some communities, for example, require lawns to have a certain amount of turf, or may prohibit certain plants or landscaping features. It may be helpful to consult with local garden centers and nurseries about the most suitable plants, or contact a local birding group for tips about landscaping for the birds.

Starting with just one small area of the yard is a good way to begin birdscaping. Use a single corner, flowerbed or similar area as a focal point, and work out from that area with additional projects when time and budgets permit. This also allows for trial-and-error and personal experience to help guide the best landscaping results with the best bird reactions.

Many backyard birders take years to fully birdscape their yards. Even after the plan is complete, changing the landscaping periodically can attract even more bird species year after year and gives birders more opportunities to enjoy both gardening and birding.