Birding in Your Backyard

Bird Nest

Image by Sikachu! via Flickr

As an Arborist and Science Educator I try to spend as much time in nature as possible. If I am not learning about or studying trees, then I am out learning and studying Birds! Bird watching is a popular pastime and a great way to get some exercise while spending some time outside. But did you know that bird watching can also be done from the comfort of your home or yard? Read on to learn more about how to attract birds with your landscaping.

Birds are a wonderful addition to any landscape, adding to the increased enjoyment and value of your home. Landscaping to attract birds is a great hobby to get involved with. Here are a few ways to get started.


Read about birds in your local town or county and join bird walks usually offered at a local nature center (warning, these walks start early!). When you begin to understand the behavior habits of different bird species the methods to attract and enjoy them are more clear. Many bird species require certain food sources and specific habitat in order to thrive and not all birds will be nesting and spending the entire summer in your area. Knowing these important facts will enhance your enjoyment.


Creating a variety of habitats will greatly increase the chances of birds visiting your yard. Some birds, the wood thrush and the ovenbird (a type of warbler), like to nest low to the ground in protected areas while others, phoebes and swallows, will nest in and around buildings. Many birds are cavity nesters. These birds require either a natural cavity in a tree or a man made nest box. Some cavity nesters are chickadees, blue birds, woodpeckers, wood ducks, house wrens and tree swallows (A word of caution: do not keep trees with large cavities near playsets or dwellings without first contacting an Arborist). Mourning doves prefer to nest on the flat branches of spruce trees.


Birds can be broken down into different groups based on the type of food they prefer. Seedeaters like cardinals and finches have strong beaks. Insect eaters like flycatchers and swallows are terrific flyers but have weaker beaks. Many birds pick at the ground for various bugs or worms – robins and flickers (a type of woodpecker) do this. Many birds can eat a variety of foods so if you choose to feed the birds with a feeder, having a variety of feeders and food types will attract more birds. Planting trees that flower and fruit throughout the summer will also ensure that food is available all season long.

Some good tree a shrub species:

Birch – seeds are attractive to goldfinch and red poll

Wild cherry – since this tree fruits early it provides a valuable food source and may help to protect nearby orchard cherries from being eaten

Butterfly bush – most any perennial with attractive flowers will attract birds

Holly – red berries preferred by kingbird and hermit thrush among others

Vibernum – fruit is a good food source

Crabapple – very attractive as a fall and winter food source

Hemlock – low spreading branches afford shelter for ground nesting birds and the seeds attract chickadees and grouse

Red Cedar (Juniper)  – dense evergreen foliage provides cover. The fruit is eaten by robins, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, mockingbird among others

Dogwood – the fruit is eaten as a fall/winter food by song sparrow, thrush and catbird

Shadbush (Amelenchier spp.) – fruit is eaten by orioles, veery (a thrush) and robins

Elderberry – the fruit is very attractive to birds

Hackberry – an excellent tree and good food source

Mountain ash – favored by waxwings, catbird, orioles and others

Norway spruce – a good nesting site and the seeds are eaten by purple finch, chickadee and pine siskin

Oaks – provide excellent nesting sites, favored by woodpeckers and jays

Others include Alder, maple, persimmon, redbud, white pine and sweetgum.


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