Shelter for Backyard Birds

Developing your backyard habitat to attract and shelter birds.

If you want to start attracting birds to your yard (or attract more and different birds), start by taking an inventory of the available foliage. Birds like plants. The more plants you have, the more birds you will have. The greater the plant diversity, the greater the bird diversity. Shelter from the elements and predators is perhaps their most important service, but carefully selected plants can provide much more.

  • Protection from the elements. Shrubs, vines and trees can help birds stay dry and warm.
  • Protection from predators. Dense foliage can provide small songbirds with protection from raptors like the Cooper's Hawk.
  • Plants provide birds with a safe and convenient location for building their nest and raising their young.
  • Why convenient? Shrubs also provide homes for various insects, caterpillars and spiders, all good sources of protein for a growing family. Leaf litter often harbors additional insects and worms, providing food for species like thrashers, sparrows and thrushes.
  • Plants can provide other natural food sources, such as nectar, seeds, fruit and berries.

Flowers and ground cover
Flowers and certain types of ground cover can provide cover for ground-foraging species such as sparrows and towhees. They may also attract insects for the birds to feed upon. Nectar-bearing flowers will attract hummingbirds.

Consider including flowers that produce seeds in the fall, and leave the seed heads in place. Migrating birds will thank you for it.

 

bay-breasted-warbler

Warblers (such as this Bay-breasted Warbler) will visit yards with a good mix of trees, vines and shrubs.

 

Shrubs
Shrubs are a great asset to almost any backyard. They are available in many sizes and colors, with a variety of tolerances to shade and sun. Careful selection can add color and depth to your yard, while making it bird friendly.

 

Popular shrub selections for birds include:

  • Cotoneaster
  • Common Provet
  • Dogwood

Trees
Certain species, such as some warblers, flycatchers, jays, woodpeckers and owls are more at home in trees. The seeds produced by elm trees are popular with many species. The buds of pecan trees attract insects, which in turn attract warblers and vireos.

Cedar and Juniper trees provide cover on a year-round basis. Other popular trees include:

  • Hawthorn
  • Redbud
  • Serviceberry

Vines
Vines are famous for their tangles and typically dense foliage. They can be used to highlight certain parts of your yard, and are often a bird favorite.

Annuals grow quickly and are often used to provide seasonal greenery and color to a garden trellis. Vines can be a good source of food. Some provide berries, while flowering vines attract insects and hummingbirds.

Perennials may develop heavy, wooden stems and enough cover to become a popular nesting location for cardinals and catbirds.

Suitable vines include:

  • Native honeysuckle
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Passionflower

Additional information
Visit the state-based information page in this section and select your state from the drop-down list on the left. You will find a list of flowers, vines, shrubs and trees selected for each state.

Visit the Gardening for Birds section for information on organic, pesticide-free gardening.