Most thrushes are not always common backyard birds, but attracting them can be rewarding because it means developing a rich, bird-friendly habitat to lure these shy species. By meeting these birds’ basic needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting sites, it is possible to attract thrushes and enjoy their amazing company all year round.
All thrushes are passerines, and these songbirds belong to the family Turdidae. Many familiar birds are thrushes, including the American robin, redstarts, bluebirds, the European robin, fieldfare, bluethroat, hermit thrush, and wheatears. Despite the popularity of these birds, however, many of them are often shy and scarce in developed areas. They would be welcomed by many backyard birders, however, for their clear, flute-like songs and insectivorous diets that can help minimize lawn and garden insects, including beetles and grubs. But what can you do to attract thrushes to your yard?
It is possible to attract these desirable songbirds if you meet their basic survival needs.
Because thrushes eat a wide range of insects, worms, and snails, it is best to minimize or eliminate insecticide use on lawns and landscaping if you hope to attract these birds. This is especially important during spring and summer when large quantities of insects are necessary to feed hungry hatchlings. In fall and winter, thrushes also eat many types of berries and fruits, including raspberries, grapes, and elderberries, and providing native berry-producing shrubs will be a welcome, natural food source. Feeders could include soaked raisins, kitchen scraps, and small pieces of suet. Low, open platform feeders or ground feeding areas are best to tempt these birds. Leaving leaf litter intact gives these birds an easy, familiar place to forage, and in winter when other foods may be scarce, they will try oil-rich seeds such as hulled sunflower seeds.
Like all birds, thrushes also need to drink, and a fresh, clean source of water can be irresistible not only for drinking, but also for bathing. A shallow bath near ground level will be most attractive to thrushes, ideally in a shaded area where they can feel more secure. These birds can be vigorous bathers, and the bath should be refilled and freshened frequently, particularly in hot climates. In cold areas, a heated bird bath can be ideal for providing liquid water year-round. Adding a dripper or bubbler to any water source will also help attract birds’ attention with soft gurgles and splashes, letting them know where to find a drink.
Thrushes generally prefer wooded habitats with mature trees, and many of them feel most comfortable in thicket-like areas or feeding near such secure shelter. Design a bird-friendly landscape with thick hiding spots in mind, planting layers of shrubs in corners, alongside buildings, and along property edges to give birds plenty of hiding places. Longer grasses and a shaded brush pile can also be welcome birdscaping features for thrushes to enjoy. Some moist or damp areas under bushes can also be useful, and thrushes will enjoy foraging for insects in the undergrowth.
Some thrushes, like eastern bluebirds, eagerly use birdhouses, but many thrush species are not cavity-nesters. Instead, they appreciate the security of thick shelter—mature trees and thick shrubs—where they can build their nests. Providing short yarn scraps or leaving grass clippings available for thrushes to collect will encourage them to nest nearby. Providing a nesting shelf or sheltered platform can also encourage thrushes to nest. If a nest is spotted, leave the nesting site undisturbed so the birds will feel secure to incubate their eggs and care for their chicks, which can also encourage multiple broods in the same area.
Even with the right food, fresh water, suitable shelter, and safe nesting sites, thrushes won’t always visit readily. If you have a bird-friendly backyard but haven’t yet seen thrushes taking advantage of your hospitality, try the following:
- Add more thicket-like areas of shelter, even small ones, giving birds a larger territory to explore and more options for foraging.
- Take steps to discourage feral cats and protect backyard birds from cats—both feral and pet cats can take a huge toll on ground-feeding thrushes.
- Work to conserve other local habitats that can be attractive to thrushes, including around neighborhood parks.
- Discourage brood parasites such as brown-headed cowbirds or common cuckoos that can take over thrush nests and increase mortality rates for thrush chicks.
- Learn more about the exact thrushes you hope to attract, such as how to attract bluebirds, and take specific steps to meet their individual needs.
The beautiful songs, colorful plumages and insectivorous diets of thrushes make them backyard favorites. Fortunately, it can be easier than many backyard birders realize to attract these often secretive, shy birds to their yards and gardens. Patience is essential, but if you design a thrush-friendly habitat, sooner or later you’ll spot these songbirds making the most of it.