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What You Can Do to Attract Birds to Your Garden

 
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Attracting Birds

Birds are an important part of just about any natural ecosystem. They eat bugs, spread seeds, and replenish your soils with fresh nutrients. But let's be honest, the real reason you want more birds in your garden is because it just makes this life so much more beautiful.

Attracting birds to your garden or homestead can be done simply by providing 3 things for the birds.

- Cover
- Food
- Water

This week's blog post is all about helping you provide each of these 3 essential elements so birds are attracted to your garden.

What sort of birds do you see on your homestead? Have you actively tried to attract birds to your garden/homestead?

Do Birds Cause Problems in a Garden?



One thing you may be wondering is do you really want birds in your garden? I mean how often have you seen gardeners putting up nets, wires, cages, old DVDs/CDs, etc. trying to keep birds out of the garden? Now you want to attract birds to the garden!?

I understand this concern and it obviously is something that some gardeners struggle with.

In general crows, black birds and jays tend to be the birds that cause the most problem in a vegetable garden. The other birds will likely not cause a lot of problems. Though the robins do annoy me when they kick my mulch all over and bury young seedlings...

One thing I would note is that these birds also eat insect pests. While the birds may eat some of your vegetables they will also reduce the number of insect pests.

So if you exclude the birds then you will see an increase in insects pests. I would rather have the birds.

I also believe based on my own experience that if you create a truly wild homestead / wild garden that there will be enough other sources of food for the birds that your garden will stop standing out.

I call an isolated garden as an oasis garden in the desert situation. If all the surrounding land is fairly bare (lawns, isolated trees, very few shrubs or other plants other than grass under the trees, etc.) and then you put in a garden then of course all the wildlife will be attracted to this new garden (the oasis).

But if you restore the landscape and plant native plants and other plants that support wildlife in addition to your food crops then the garden does not stand out.

On my property I have seen a huge increase in the number of birds since I started improving the land but I'm actually losing less of my harvest today to birds than I was before I improved the land.

This week's blog post shows a bit of what I have been doing on my own property.

3 Quick Things You Can Do to Attract Birds



Check out the blog post for more information but here are 3 examples of things you can do to provide cover, food, and water for birds from the post.

The easiest is to setup a bird feeder and a bird bath. I got a relatively cheap feeder from the store and the bird bath in the picture is one I built using the ceramic water catchment for a large pot and a wood round. It looks nice and works great.

Of course natural water features and natural habitat are best but adding a feeder and a bird bath will attract birds to your garden.

My recommendation is to pick an area near the bird feeder and bird bath to plant a tree, a few shrubs, and some smaller plants. Add some woody debris like a small log to finish it off.

Plant these plants in a fairly dense group to create a cluster. Ideally, either the tree or at least one of the shrubs will be an evergreen for winter cover. Also, native plants will support more insects which will in turn support more birds.

I planted dense hedgerows near my bird bath and feeder and birds go back and forth from the hedgerow to the feeder/bath all the time. The hedgerow gives them cover that they need to feel safe.

If you do each of these 3 things--add a bird bath and feeder and an area for cover--you should see a lot more birds coming to your garden. Beyond just enjoying watching the birds you should see a decrease in insect pests and an overall increase in abundance.

Are You Actively Trying to Attract Birds?

What do you think?

What are you doing to attract birds to your garden / homestead? Do you have a favorite song bird? If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

My favorite would have to be swallows!

Thanks for reading this post and please don't forget to check out this week's blog post.
 
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This topic is great. So many things that permies can add. I have one: If you are living in a city, have a fence that will keep cats out of your property. Birds will move in no time.

I believe feeding birds is actually a bit more complicated in permaculture site. What you are feeding? Some species can have unfair advantage over others if you feed same stuff all the time. European house sparrows will dominate your garden, killing diversity and so resilience (in Europe). When you are feeding? Generally there is two major periods that birds are in need of supplementary feed. It might differ from place to place; but over here they are: at the end of winter (to keep them alive) and at the end of summer (to keep the population growth). Winter is obvious (you might want to supplement with lard), summer time feeding is a bit trickier. Population explodes in spring time, but at the end of summer resources will dwindle due to lack of water (Mediterranean climate). This is usually the first major challenge for that years chicks. If you want to promote population growth, feed them; if you want to push off the unfit ones don't feed them. Chick feeding is also a time you might want to feed the birds if the population is larger than the natural carrying capacity of your property. They show such an interesting behavior (especially house sparrows). Feed them for 5-6 days, but remove the feeder for 1-2 days. They just can not go somewhere else, because their nests are in your property. They can not wait for the next day.  There will be an annihilation of bugs and spiders during that time.
Generally birds love thorns. Have some zone 5 in your garden. Blackberry etc. Also have areas that are dedicated for natural feeding. Plant thristles for European gold finch, millet for sparrows and such.
Most importantly, don't think feeding birds as an extra cost or a luxury for your sight and ears. Some species are serious insect hunters (such as wren). They are your voluntary army that will hunt 24/7 instead of you using insecticides. Those funny little things are vicious hunters. You can easily manipulate this behavior. Such as having dedicated areas that birds will hang out around your vegatable garden.
 
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For urban growers, squirrel pressure on birds is *huge*. Many people put out feeders, but I'm not seeing many birdhouses, so I encourage people to do a little research as to the type of nests needed for  the birds you see and the ones you'd like to encourage, and the safe places (read squirrels can't get to them) you might be able to hang them. I just repaired a 10 year old house that my sister has hanging under her garage eve. A couple of sparrows have nested every year there, but we may have done our repairs too late for this year. Sparrows may not be exotic, but I have seen them feeding their young bugs.
Both my sisters have rabbit problems also, so they collect old hamster cages that people throw out and put them over young transplants to keep both the birds and the bunnies at bay until the plants get a chance to establish themselves. The biggest problem I have with robins is the strawberry patch. If they'd just eat *one* I wouldn't complain, but they insist on taking one bite out of 10!. I plant my strawberries in small groups that I can easily put netting over for the critical period. That way I get the free bug patrol over the large area, but still get a few strawberries.

 
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We leave our pea fences up all winter and move them in early spring.  We let the pea plants on them and the birds poop all over them.  We use 3 ft tall stakes for end markers and the birds love to perch on them too.  We have robins, sparrows, finches, red wings and swallows.  My wife gets a kick out of mowing our paths with a flock of swallows following her.  The red wings love the raspberry patches.  They perch and nest around them.  We leave a bit of cover on the fields and when the black birds come and rest they coat the ground.
 
Daron Williams
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s. ayalp wrote:This topic is great. So many things that permies can add. I have one: If you are living in a city, have a fence that will keep cats out of your property. Birds will move in no time.

I believe feeding birds is actually a bit more complicated in permaculture site. What you are feeding? Some species can have unfair advantage over others if you feed same stuff all the time. European house sparrows will dominate your garden, killing diversity and so resilience (in Europe). When you are feeding? Generally there is two major periods that birds are in need of supplementary feed. It might differ from place to place; but over here they are: at the end of winter (to keep them alive) and at the end of summer (to keep the population growth). Winter is obvious (you might want to supplement with lard), summer time feeding is a bit trickier. Population explodes in spring time, but at the end of summer resources will dwindle due to lack of water (Mediterranean climate). This is usually the first major challenge for that years chicks. If you want to promote population growth, feed them; if you want to push off the unfit ones don't feed them. Chick feeding is also a time you might want to feed the birds if the population is larger than the natural carrying capacity of your property. They show such an interesting behavior (especially house sparrows). Feed them for 5-6 days, but remove the feeder for 1-2 days. They just can not go somewhere else, because their nests are in your property. They can not wait for the next day.  There will be an annihilation of bugs and spiders during that time.
Generally birds love thorns. Have some zone 5 in your garden. Blackberry etc. Also have areas that are dedicated for natural feeding. Plant thristles for European gold finch, millet for sparrows and such.
Most importantly, don't think feeding birds as an extra cost or a luxury for your sight and ears. Some species are serious insect hunters (such as wren). They are your voluntary army that will hunt 24/7 instead of you using insecticides. Those funny little things are vicious hunters. You can easily manipulate this behavior. Such as having dedicated areas that birds will hang out around your vegatable garden.



Thanks for the comment! You make some good points about seed mix and which birds will be supported. I have a single feeder on my property but I have been planting a lot of plants that provide food for them either directly or by supporting the insects that the birds eat.

What is interesting about bird feeding is that when they have young the vast majority (some studies put it at 90%) of birds in North America feed their young exclusively on insects. To me this would mean that the feeder would be primarily used by the adults to help keep themselves going while their young eat the bugs. So without creating good habitat even a feeder won't be able to fully support the local birds.

I have also noticed that the birds spend a lot more time scratching around in the mulch layers around my plants than they do at the feeder. They use it but they really like all the planted areas I have--especially my hedgerows! I see them all over those areas. At this point I only use a single small feeder that is mainly there to make it easier for my son to watch birds. He is 2 and loves to see them. The bird bath is near it too.

You make some good points and thank you for sharing! It does get complicated trying to truly create a system that is in balance with nature.
 
Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:For urban growers, squirrel pressure on birds is *huge*. Many people put out feeders, but I'm not seeing many birdhouses, so I encourage people to do a little research as to the type of nests needed for  the birds you see and the ones you'd like to encourage, and the safe places (read squirrels can't get to them) you might be able to hang them. I just repaired a 10 year old house that my sister has hanging under her garage eve. A couple of sparrows have nested every year there, but we may have done our repairs too late for this year. Sparrows may not be exotic, but I have seen them feeding their young bugs.
Both my sisters have rabbit problems also, so they collect old hamster cages that people throw out and put them over young transplants to keep both the birds and the bunnies at bay until the plants get a chance to establish themselves. The biggest problem I have with robins is the strawberry patch. If they'd just eat *one* I wouldn't complain, but they insist on taking one bite out of 10!. I plant my strawberries in small groups that I can easily put netting over for the critical period. That way I get the free bug patrol over the large area, but still get a few strawberries.



Yeah, good point about squirrels. I don't have enough trees (yet) for the squirrels to spend any time on my property. But they are in the forest across the street and soon as my trees grow I'm sure they will be hanging out at my place too. Yeah, sometimes with some crops you may just need to protect them like the strawberries. One thing I have been doing is planting a lot of the wild native types with the hope that the birds will just eat those. I never get berries from them but they have spread a ton and are making a great ground cover under my hedgerows.

Thanks for sharing!
 
Daron Williams
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Christopher Shepherd wrote:We leave our pea fences up all winter and move them in early spring.  We let the pea plants on them and the birds poop all over them.  We use 3 ft tall stakes for end markers and the birds love to perch on them too.  We have robins, sparrows, finches, red wings and swallows.  My wife gets a kick out of mowing our paths with a flock of swallows following her.  The red wings love the raspberry patches.  They perch and nest around them.  We leave a bit of cover on the fields and when the black birds come and rest they coat the ground.



Thanks for sharing! That is fun about the swallows following your wife around Sounds like you are doing a lot to support your local birds and have a good number of them on your property. Thanks again for the comment!
 
Christopher Shepherd
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Thank you.  We do grow lots of stuff and share with the local wildlife.  I am to cheap to buy feed for them so we grow it.  I plant a 20 x 30 garden full of sunflowers, sorghum, amaranth, rape and popcorn.  All these are seeds saved from our farm.  We have a big brush pile that the locals throw their tree limbs into and this makes good cover for the birds and rabbits. We also leave rows of sorghum up all winter from our production fields for the birds.  This gives them shelter, feed, and is a snow trap for water.  When I am out at other properties I try to pick out seeds of different types of flowers and grasses and plant them along the creek with all of our berries. My neighbors sometimes complain about my creek.  They have actually mowed it off with a cycle bar while I was at work 7 years ago.  I put an end to that.  The milkweed and nettles are finally back. About 5 years ago I notice the humming birds stopped coming to my wife’s hummingbird feeder in the summer.  They all stay along the creek because there are flowers all summer long.  It is nice to get buzzed by them while taking our evening walks.

Off topic here, I noticed the darn rabbits always eat my young oak trees off clear to the ground.  This is ok, because after doing that for 2 years the little oak trees shoot up on the third year way above a rabbits reach.  It is almost like the oaks need to be ate off to make them strong enough to grow up.  I have 8” diameter oaks now that this happened to 14 years ago.  We are trying to work with all the animals to improve our ecology, rabbit poo is good too.
 
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Growing bamboo is a great way to provide cover for birds.  It makes a great place for birds to roost overnight.  The dense evergreen foliage hides them from predators and reduces their heat loss in cold weather.  The flexible canes and branches with slick stems make it hard for land predators to climb up to them and the jiggling stems gives them plenty of warning that the predator is trying to reach them.

 I have 100's to 1000's of blackbirds and grackles that overnight in my bamboo groves providing an aerial display every evening as they fly in at dusk (complete with red shouldered hawks and merlins working to intercept them on their way in) and the guano they leave behind fertilizes the bamboo groves and the surrounding land.  During the day, cardinals and English sparrows use the groves as places to hang out.
 
Daron Williams
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Christopher Shepherd wrote:Thank you.  We do grow lots of stuff and share with the local wildlife.  I am to cheap to buy feed for them so we grow it.  I plant a 20 x 30 garden full of sunflowers, sorghum, amaranth, rape and popcorn.  All these are seeds saved from our farm.  We have a big brush pile that the locals throw their tree limbs into and this makes good cover for the birds and rabbits. We also leave rows of sorghum up all winter from our production fields for the birds.  This gives them shelter, feed, and is a snow trap for water.  When I am out at other properties I try to pick out seeds of different types of flowers and grasses and plant them along the creek with all of our berries. My neighbors sometimes complain about my creek.  They have actually mowed it off with a cycle bar while I was at work 7 years ago.  I put an end to that.  The milkweed and nettles are finally back. About 5 years ago I notice the humming birds stopped coming to my wife’s hummingbird feeder in the summer.  They all stay along the creek because there are flowers all summer long.  It is nice to get buzzed by them while taking our evening walks.

Off topic here, I noticed the darn rabbits always eat my young oak trees off clear to the ground.  This is ok, because after doing that for 2 years the little oak trees shoot up on the third year way above a rabbits reach.  It is almost like the oaks need to be ate off to make them strong enough to grow up.  I have 8” diameter oaks now that this happened to 14 years ago.  We are trying to work with all the animals to improve our ecology, rabbit poo is good too.



Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you got a lot of great habitat for the birds in your area. That is really interesting that the humming birds stopped coming to your wife's feeder in the summer to stay down along the creek. Just really cool that the habitat was so good that they chose that area instead of the feeder.

Thanks for sharing the story about the oaks. Really interesting!
 
Daron Williams
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Mike Turner wrote:Growing bamboo is a great way to provide cover for birds.  It makes a great place for birds to roost overnight.  The dense evergreen foliage hides them from predators and reduces their heat loss in cold weather.  The flexible canes and branches with slick stems make it hard for land predators to climb up to them and the jiggling stems gives them plenty of warning that the predator is trying to reach them.

 I have 100's to 1000's of blackbirds and grackles that overnight in my bamboo groves providing an aerial display every evening as they fly in at dusk (complete with red shouldered hawks and merlins working to intercept them on their way in) and the guano they leave behind fertilizes the bamboo groves and the surrounding land.  During the day, cardinals and English sparrows use the groves as places to hang out.



Fun! I'm planning on growing some bamboo for use in my garden (stakes, trellis, etc.). Great to know that the birds like them too! Thanks for sharing!
 
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I put out bread for our Ravens, and in turn they bring me little trinkets and leave them on my patio table. Shiny stuff usually, a coin, gum wrapper, one time a little tin fairy! Its now hanging up in my ponderosa pine.

Sandy
 
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I used to put out the typical hummingbird feeders (with a jar/bottle on top gravity feeding the dish under) but after watching the bees drink the WHOLE CONTAINER'S worth in one day, switched to these feeders, keeps the bees from drinking it up!

Sandy
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[Thumbnail for hummingbird-feeder.jpg]
 
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I honestly haven't tried to attract the birds, they've just come!

I've been growing a large amount of blueberries, grapes, and other food that they like to eat some of, and I have an almost totally wild area at the back of our property filled with small bushes and trees that the birds love to hide in.

I usually mulch my plants and garden a lot, and a ton of the birds love scratching around in it, especially the robins and eastern towhees.

It's such a great time of year, hearing all the different bird songs now!
 
Daron Williams
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S Smithsson wrote:I put out bread for our Ravens, and in turn they bring me little trinkets and leave them on my patio table. Shiny stuff usually, a coin, gum wrapper, one time a little tin fairy! Its now hanging up in my ponderosa pine.

Sandy



Fun! Thanks for sharing that story!

That hummingbird feeder is the same type my parents use. It seems to work well for them. They get tons of hummingbirds coming to their 2 feeders. I admit that I just don't have time to keep hummingbird feeders cleaned and filled so instead I'm planting a ton of flowers they like. I have already seen some coming to my red flowering currants which are blooming really well this year!

Thanks for the comments!
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:I honestly haven't tried to attract the birds, they've just come!

I've been growing a large amount of blueberries, grapes, and other food that they like to eat some of, and I have an almost totally wild area at the back of our property filled with small bushes and trees that the birds love to hide in.

I usually mulch my plants and garden a lot, and a ton of the birds love scratching around in it, especially the robins and eastern towhees.

It's such a great time of year, hearing all the different bird songs now!



Yeah, if you use permaculture practices then you will likely be attracting birds without trying. But I have seen permaculture systems that just don't have enough cover near the garden or good water sources for birds. I think there is a lot that can be done to kinda direct birds to where you want them by using the right techniques in the right places. Looks like you are doing a lot to get the birds to show up through your regular practices

What birds do you get the most? Do you have a favorite? Thanks for sharing!
 
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Daron Williams wrote:

I admit that I just don't have time to keep hummingbird feeders cleaned and filled so instead I'm planting a ton of flowers they like.

The hummingbirds in my neighborhood adore Scarlet Runner Bean flowers. I get the beans (fresh eating + dried they make good bean dip), the soil micros get the nitrogen and the hummingbirds get the nectar and we're all happy. Much easier than feeders, and I worry that the feeders won't give the birds the micro-nutrients they need.
 
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I let the grass and weeds go wild on my fence line, and I've put in more evergreens for winter shelter.  I'm not really trying to harvest yet so the birds can eat pretty much whatever they want.  I have a lot of berries in my forest, probably why I have a mocking bird as they like the berries.

My favorite songbird is probably the mockingbird.   I have one nesting in a mature blue spruce...really pretty voice.  You never know what he's going to sing.

I also like Mourning doves. The sound they make when they fly is pretty cool, their wings whistle.  Finally, who doesn't like a fat robin with a worm in its mouth?

I will eventually have some kind of water feature but for now, my goal is to plant and propagate as much as I can to create biodiversity.  
 
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I had looked into a purple martin house, but the recommendations seem pretty strict - must clean it every season, must install on a pole with predator guard, etc.  I prefer something simpler I can mount on a tree and forget about (like my bat houses).

I tried some small water features (clay pots, plastic rail mounted water bath) but they evaporated pretty quickly.  I have a creek on a one-acre property, so I may not really need water features.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:What birds do you get the most? Do you have a favorite? Thanks for sharing!



I get a lot of robins, and it seems like they all come in a group a lot of the time.

My favorite is probably the eastern towhee. It's entertaining to me, watching them scratching around like they're doing a little dance in the leaves and mulch!

 
Daron Williams
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Jay – Awesome! I have those on my list of plants to plant in my new kitchen garden 😊

Scott – Nice! Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you have some fun birds hanging out at your place and I agree that I really love seeing a robin with a worm!

Josh – Yea, purple martin’s can be challenging. The group I work for put some up and it takes a team of volunteers to manage them.

Steve – Nice! I really like the western species of towhee that hang out at my place. They are fun birds!

Thanks all for sharing!
 
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If you want birds to eat insect then dont give food. Insect eating birds tend to be non plant eating birds.
 
Daron Williams
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julian Gerona wrote:If you want birds to eat insect then dont give food. Insect eating birds tend to be non plant eating birds.



During the breading season most song birds will only feed their young with insects. Now during the rest of the year you make a good point but with my one feeder I see the birds foraging all over my planted areas away from the feeder. They don't seem to rely on it alone. Though this might be different in a small urban lot. Thanks for the comment!
 
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I was out doing a little maintenance this last weekend and saw my first pair of bluebirds (thrush) in the forest.      
download.jpg
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Picture for Identification, this is not my picture.
 
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This is how we feed birds in winter with a simple feeder made of big plastic jar:

 
I AM MIGHTY! Especially when I hold this tiny ad:
Got a New Homestead? Here is What You Need to Know to Before You Start a Homestead
https://permies.com/t/97104/Starting-homestead-strong-foundation
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