Provide a few basics like food and water to draw in a variety of feathered friends. These simple tips will help you keep them coming back for more.

By Kelly Roberson
Updated August 18, 2020
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Part of the beauty of any landscape is the fascinating wildlife that lives in it, and that includes the beautiful songbirds that flit through it. Wrens, cardinals, swallows, nuthatches, and more will fill your garden with their beautiful songs. Attracting these birds is as simple as providing them with a few of their favorite native plants, and some water to splash around in. You don't need to follow all of these tips to make your winged visitors happy; choose which ones will work best for your landscape (you might already be doing some of them), and soon your garden will become an amazing bird-watching destination.

Credit: Bob Stefko

1. Plant a Diverse Landscape

Attracting songbirds to the garden means creating a solidly packed, multi-layer landscape that has a variety of plants to supply structure and food throughout the year. When designing and planting beds and borders, think both horizontally and vertically and include a range of plants: Annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, and grasses. For example, the seed heads of perennials and ornamental grasses draw fall ground-feeding birds and supply cover for birds as they forage on the ground.

2. Figure Out the Songbirds' Favorite Meals

To draw birds in, find a seed or food that is specific to the birds you want to attract. In addition, you'll draw a more interesting variety of birds than you would with a general wild bird blend. For starters, try an assortment of seed- or nectar-producing plant species that are known to please songbird palates, including black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis, and salvia. Or fill bird feeders with sunflower seeds, which are good for attracting songbirds to the garden (and a favorite of most seed-eating birds).

Suet and mealworms attract insect-eating birds such as nuthatches and woodpeckers; cracked corn draws pigeons and doves. For goldfinches, indigo buntings, and towhees, include a finch mix; finches also love nyjer seeds. Songbird mix draws cardinals, titmice, blue jays, and white-throated sparrows, among others, while safflower attracts songbirds but isn't as attractive to greedy squirrels, starlings, and grackles. Hummingbirds visit feeders with sugar and water, as do orioles, house finches, and red-bellied woodpeckers; you can also set out fresh fruit halves for orioles, tanagers, and grosbeaks.

Credit: Bob Stefko

3. Include a Birdbath

Birds love to splash in water, so including a birdbath is a good method to attract songbirds. Place the birdbath in an open location so the birds can keep an eye on their surroundings and watch for potential predators; change the water every few days.

4. Remove Nonnative Plants in Favor of Nutritious Natives

As a tool for attracting songbirds to the garden, native plants provide a balanced diet of seeds and fruits that ripen at critical times. The more natives you plant, the more insects you draw, and the more varieties of songbirds that will visit.

5. Include Trees and Shrubs in Your Wildlife Garden

Trees and shrubs provide shelter from storms and hiding places from predators. Plus, trees and shrubs supply a spot for birds to build a nest, which is helpful in attracting songbirds to the garden. Trees that bear fruits and nuts, such as flowering crabapple, also offer food to many songbirds. Include several specimens for as much variety as possible. Include at least one thorny species, such as hawthorn or rose, to provide protective perches. A few dense evergreens (juniper, spruce, yew) offer winter cover; a variety of berry-producing species such as dogwood, serviceberry, chokeberry, and viburnum provide fruit at different times in the season. Bonus: Many trees are also attractive to butterflies.

6. Reduce the Size of Your Lawn

A yard with fewer square feet devoted to turf and more space with wildlife-attracting plants will naturally have more songbirds. For native grasses, good choices for attracting songbirds to the garden include switchgrass and little bluestem; cut them back once per year in early spring.

7. Leave Stems Standing this Winter

Instead of cutting perennials to the ground in autumn, leave stems to help shelter overwintering insects that songbirds may eat. You can also leave brush piles from cleanup chores. These fallen branches are a great ground-level shelter for birds.

Test Garden Tip: Leaving brush piles may attract and provide habitat for other wildlife, such as rodents so make sure to site them away from your house.

Credit: David Speer

8. Maintain Bird Feeders and Birdhouses

Feeders and birdhouses are easy ways to attract songbirds to the garden, but you must keep them in good shape. Clean feeders monthly to keep free of disease-causing bacteria; use a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Clean out and repair boxes in late winter before nesting season begins.

9. Avoid Herbicides, Pesticides, and Fertilizers

Any of these substances can be deadly to birds and other wildlife. A better bet to attracting songbirds to the garden is to rely on biological controls for insect pests and keep weeds down by pulling them when they are small and before they have a chance to go to seed.

10. Keep Cats Indoors

Your felines may want to roam, but cats cause the death of millions of songbirds each year. Your best bet for attracting songbirds to the garden is to separate the two.

Comments (1)

Anonymous
December 15, 2018
I don't think any garden would be complete with a few windchimes too. I hang them on the same branch as the feeders and when the squirrels or cats come it rings out and lets the birds know something is coming.