Backyard Birding

Seeing a tiny hummingbird zoom around a flower bed, hearing a cardinal's sweet song after a long winter, or listening to a woodpecker in a nearby tree help people throughout the country connect to the nature in their neighborhoods.

When you're ready to see more birds, plan a trip to a National Wildlife Refuge. You can find one near your home or travel destination here. Managed specifically to benefit wildlife, national wildlife refuges welcome bird watchers of all abilities and interest levels.

The establishment of a vibrant and active birding area at home is based on providing wild birds with four habitat elements: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. To attract the greatest number of birds, try to offer a variety of these elements.


Feeding birds is one of the best ways to invite birds to your home. Food for birds includes natural plantings and bird feeding stations. Native plants that provide seeds, nectar, and berries favored by local and migrant bird species are important.

Many feeders are designed to attract a wide variety of birds, such as hopper, platform, tube and window feeders. These are ideal for offering the major birdseed types: sunflower, safflower, millet, and Nyjer® (thistle), to attract the widest variety of the birds.

Nectar, suet, and peanut feeders attract additional bird species that do not regularly use traditional seeds.

Credit: USFWS

The placement of these feeders next to protective cover and at a variety of elevations will affect the number and variety of birds you will attract.

  • Buy small quantities of different kinds of seeds to determine which types work best.
  • Place your feeder away from busy sidewalks and paths when possible.
  • Keep your seed supply dry and protected from moisture and rodents.
  • Clean feeders regularly, especially hummingbird feeders, to prevent sick or diseased birds.
  • Window strikes are responsible for the death of millions of birds each year. Window strikes can be reduced by placing feeders within three feet of a window or more than 30 feet away.
  • Locate feeders near bushes or other cover when possible, to give birds a quick escape from predators.


Birds need a dependable supply of water throughout the year for drinking and bathing. Sources of water include small pools and waterfalls, birdbaths, drippers, and misters. A heated bird bath in the winter is a welcome element during freezing temperatures.


Birds need protective cover as a place to escape predators and rest. Some native shrubs and trees are good for roosting cover, nest sites and shelter from cold temperatures and bad weather.

Without the sense of security that a good source of cover provides, many birds will simply not use a feeding station. Landscaping for cover should include plants ranging in size and density from small evergreen shrubs to tall, full-grown trees or brush piles so that birds can choose the appropriate cover they need for feeding, hiding, courting, and nesting activities.

Places to Raise Young

Bird houses provide nesting sites for birds. Primary cavity nesting species (such as woodpeckers) excavate their own sites. Secondary cavity nesters rely on pre-existing cavities. Secondary nesters lack the ability to create their own nesting sites and will readily accept nesting boxes.

Northern cardinal
Credit: Laura Perlick

Beyond Bird Feeders - Creating a Backyard Refuge

If space permits, you can add other habitat elements around your home to create a mini-National Wildlife Refuge.

Besides providing seeds, suet, fruit and sugar water using different bird feeders, try growing native plants that produce berries, seeds, nuts and flowers for natural food sources. Local nurseries often sell native plants that attract birds, mammals, butterflies, caterpillars, and other insects. And the insects in turn appeal to other wildlife that eat insects and other small animals.

If you're short on space, you can grow plants such as sunflowers for goldfinches and nectar-producing varieties to attract hummingbirds in containers.

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