Attracting Birds to your Garden

morning dove

Gary Westlake


Probably nothing attracts birds more than habitat. A variety of plants that provide shelter and living space for birds are the keys to success. You can also provide them with water, food, and appropriate places to build nests.

Water, particularly running or trickling water holds great attraction for birds. A birdbath is a great ornamental object for any garden but to make them also work for the birds, it should have a shallow part so that the birds can get in easily. Try raising the birdbath higher and locating it away from shrubs where cats and other predators can lay in ambush. If you are concerned about mosquitoes in your birdbaths, the larvae cannot survive if the water is moving because they use the surface tension to breathe. Just run a hose into your birdbath once every day or two. The species of mosquito that carries the West Nile virus only breeds in small stagnate puddles like those found in scrap tires and in rain gutters.

We only offer two types of seed at our house. For the finches and chickadees, we put Niger seed into metal tube feeders with no perches (the squirrels destroyed the plastic type with the perches). Our larger feeders have only sunflower seed. When we used mixtures, some birds threw the seeds they didnít like on the ground to get to the ones they wanted. We discovered that squirrels could be discouraged by a length of stovepipe wired to the pole. Squirrels canít get into the small holes on the finch feeders so they leave them alone. Similarly, ants are a problem with humming bird feeders, but can be reduced by putting something sticky in their path. Try also nailing half oranges to posts to attract orioles and leaving your perennials up over the winter. Not only does it add winter interest, but it also feeds the birds.

Only a few species, those that normally build in tree cavities and similar locations, will use a typical birdhouse (these include wrens, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds, woodpeckers and flickers and a few others). Forget trying to attract orioles, cardinals, and bluejays in this way. Robins and barn swallows will nest on shelves attached to the side of buildings. You will have more success if: you eliminate the perch (they just get in the way of the flight path as the bird is landing); if you donít paint them unnatural colours (birds donít like to advertise); if you use the right size hole for the bird you are trying to attract (1 ľ inches fits most of the smaller birds); and if you clean out and disinfect them annually to reduce disease. There is no point in putting birdhouses too close together, since birds defend territories. A wren will defend an area of ľ to Ĺ and acre so and even sticks obstructions in neighbouring birdhouses to discourage their use. You also can provide nesting material.