Backyard Birdwatching – How to Attract Our Feathered Friends

Spring is the time when birds of many colorful species return to the Northeast from their winter in the south. Since we’re spending so much time at home, it’s the perfect opportunity to create a bird haven in your back yard. You can keep it simple or make it extravagant – it’s all up to you.

Here are some ideas from that can help you on your way:

Attract them with food. Different birds eat different types of food. Decide which bird species you want to attract and learn about their food preferences. Here in Massachusetts, return visitors include robins, orioles, goldfinches, chickadees, blue jays, waxwings, hummingbirds, cardinals, mourning doves, nuthatches and more (check for a complete list). Wild bird seed that includes a mix of sunflower seeds, millet, and thistle will attract a variety of birds, while suet and even fruit attracts others.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to worry about creating a hardship for birds if you ever decide to take a hiatus from bird feeding. Feeders actually account for a relatively small percent of a bird’s overall food supply. When a traditional food source is available – such as worms, insects, plant seeds, or berries – birds will often opt for that instead!

Provide some housing. Bird houses don’t have to be fancy, as not all birds use them. But if you would like to have birds inhabit your yard, their houses should be made of wood. Wood is durable, but it’s also porous enough to allow moisture and heat to escape during the summer, which keeps the young birds from getting too hot inside. Metal and plastic can get too hot, which can cause harm to the birds. Use natural, unpainted wood instead of bright paint and stain the outside with a natural wood preservative such as linseed oil.

Stay away from any birdhouse with a perch. Birds don’t need them and they only make it easier for predators or unwanted birds to get in. The best time to put up a new birdhouse is actually in the fall or winter so that birds will have plenty of time to locate them before the breeding season. And before putting them up, do some research about the best places to put them to attract some feathered guests.

Like any house, intruders can be a big problem for baby birds. Squirrels, raccoons, snakes, cats, and House Sparrows can all cause harm to eggs and helpless baby birds. Fortunately, there are options to help keep predators at bay. Also, make sure you get a few different sizes, so they will appeal to different species.

Many birdhouses now come equipped with predator guards, a metal reinforcement plate or a piece that fits around the opening. Baffles can be placed on poles to keep squirrels or other predators from crawling up. 

Have a source of water. Fresh water is essential for both drinking and bathing. Install a birdbath (on the ground, or on a pedestal if predators are frequent), and clean it regularly using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Make sure to rinse the bath thoroughly before refilling.

Many birdbaths are made too deep. Small birds prefer shallow water (i.e., anything under two inches). To rectify this, add gravel to the bath or place a small branch in the water with one end resting on the rim and the other in the water so that birds can move along the branch to the water depth they prefer.

If space permits, a small in-ground pond in the corner of the yard, with plenty of protective cover around it, is the most attractive to birds. Small pumps can be purchased to circulate the water since moving water has been proven to be especially attractive to birds.

Finally, keep your cats and other pets indoors, get yourself a pair of binoculars, and enjoy the different types of birds that come to visit your yard. It’s a great, educational opportunity to view nature up close-ish.  To read more about our native wild birds and other wildlife, visit









About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.
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Hyannis, MA 02601
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