With hundreds of species easy to spot locally, many backyard birders become frustrated when only a few common backyard birds regularly visit their feeders. Fortunately, it is easy to attract new birds to your backyard by offering what they need most: food, water, shelter, and nesting sites. By adding new features to your yard that address these needs, you’ll soon find a wide range of new and unexpected species nearby.
Adding new food sources is one of the easiest and most effective ways to attract new birds to your backyard. A basic seed mix is a good start for backyard birding, but more specialized foods will attract a wider range of species.
- New seeds: Black oil sunflower seeds are the best for attracting songbirds to your yard, but other types of seed such as safflower, millet, and nyjer will attract different species that aren’t as fond of sunflower seeds. Try adding new seeds to existing mixes or use new seeds alone to see which birds show a preference.
- Suet: If you don’t already offer suet in your backyard, you’re missing out on attracting woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other fat-loving birds. Try different blends or make your own bird suet for the birds you wish to attract.
- Nuts: Jays, magpies and titmice love peanuts and peanut butter. Offer whole nuts or shelled nuts as part of your backyard buffet to attract these species, or be sure your seed and suet types also include bits of nuts.
- Fruit: Many birds will sample fruit at your feeders, and different types of fruit are favorite choices for feeding orioles. Fruit chunks such as oranges, apples, melons, and grapes are easy to add to platform feeders and will attract many unusual birds.
- Kitchen scraps: Bread, leftover pasta, bacon rinds, rice and other types of kitchen scraps will attract a wide range of birds. Offer scraps in small quantities to avoid attracting unwanted guests such as rodents or raccoons. Keep scraps to rare, limited treats, however, as they are not as nutritious as other popular foods.
- Nectar: If you’ve never tried feeding hummingbirds, putting up a hummingbird feeder can bring a colorful surprise to your yard. Orioles, woodpeckers and other species will also sample from nectar feeders, depending on the size and design.
- Natural foods: Don't forget to take advantage of nature's bounty, and add seed-bearing flowers, berry bushes, nectar-rich flowers, and other natural foods to your landscaping. Many birds that may be wary about unknown feeders will happily forage among familiar plants. At the same time, minimize or eliminate insecticide use to be sure insectivorous birds have plenty to eat.
In addition to offering new food sources, you can attract new birds to your backyard if you change how you offer seeds and other food. Add a new type of bird feeder, such as a sock, tube, platform or saucer feeder to give birds more choices for how they eat. Set up new bird feeders in a different area of your yard to reduce competition and aggression with your old feeders, and you may even see more reclusive bird species trying them out.
Not all birds will visit feeders, but they all need water. While a basic bird bath is an easy way to attract birds with water, upgrading your water features or adding new ones will bring new bird species flocking to your yard.
- Moving water: Instead of just a static bird bath, add a dripper, mister or bubbler to create motion. Birds will see and hear the water from great distances, and many curious species will come to investigate. If you have the space and budget, consider a fountain bird bath or even larger water feature such as a waterfall or pond.
- Multiple water sources: A single bird bath can be very crowded, particularly if it is the only water source for a large area. Add additional bird baths to attract more birds, or add different water features such as a mister in a shady grove or a ground bubbler near shrubbery to attract a wider range of birds.
- Winter water: Birds can get their water from snow and ice in the winter, but a liquid water source will attract dozens of birds in the cold. Add a simple heater attachment to your existing bird bath or upgrade to a heated bird bath to attract winter birds with a warm drink.
Birds like to feel protected and secure, and if they are uncertain about the safety of an area they will not visit it regularly. By adding more shelter to your backyard, you entice even the shiest birds to stop by.
- Landscaping: Opt for bird-friendly landscaping that features native plants in tiers or clumps to provide familiar shelter for your regional birds. Add new plants to an unused area of your yard, or increase the density of existing plants for more secure cover. To make the plants do double duty, choose trees and shrubs with seeds and fruits the birds will enjoy as a natural food source.
- Brush pile: Build a brush pile in a secluded section of your yard to offer instant shelter to birds. This is a great way to recycle a Christmas tree or prunings from landscaping projects, and small birds such as sparrows and finches will eagerly flock to a brush pile when they feel threatened.
- Roost boxes: Adding a roost box to your yard will give backyard birds a safe, warm place to settle on cold winter evenings. Many small birds, including bluebirds, chickadees, and wrens will readily use roost boxes.
New Nesting Sites
It is a real treat for backyard birders to observe mating and nesting habits of their favorite backyard species. Offering suitable nesting areas will increase the chances that new birds will find your yard attractive.
- Bird houses: Add a new bird house designed for a specific species to your yard. Check the size of the entrance hole and the other dimensions of the house to be sure it is suitable for the birds you wish to attract.
- Bird house safety: If you do have bird houses up but they go unused year after year, they may not be appealing to your backyard birds. Be sure they are safe bird houses that are resistant to predators and positioned to be secure from the worst weather.
- Nesting material: Offer nesting material for your birds to take when constructing their nests. Some birds will prefer weed fluff from dead flowers, while others will take advantage of grass clippings that are left on the lawn. You can purchase balls or squares of cotton fluff and lint that hummingbirds and goldfinches prefer, or you can save hair, pet fur and small pieces of string to offer in a suet cage nester.
Once you have upgraded your backyard offerings to attract new birds, the most important step is to be patient and observant. You may already be attracting more bird species than you realize, but they may not stay nearby for long if your yard does not offer what they need. By offering a good range of food, water, shelter, and nesting sites, you can encourage many different birds to visit your yard more frequently and to stay for longer periods, giving you more opportunities to see the variation in your backyard flock.