Make Some Feathered Friends

You can build the ultimate bird-friendly yard to feed year-round avian visitors, plus any unexpected guests who layover during a storm.

By Leah Zerbe


Keeping a well-stocked feeder will attract delightful winter visitorsConstruct a stick and leaf pile. We're focusing on birds, but as mentioned above, bugs are a huge part of the equation when it comes to keeping birds alive and well. "Leaf litter and stick piles are the places where many insects overwinter, and the birds know this," says Saffier. "They will search these resources in fall and winter looking for insect eggs, pupating butterflies, and insect larvae." Birds like sparrows and juncos will work overtime, performing bug egg cleanup duty on your pile!

Let snags stand. That dead tree you've been meaning to cut down in your yard? If you can leave the tree, or part of it, safely standing (as in, it's not in danger of falling on a building or onto someone—talk to a landscaper or arborist), it will lure birds to cavity shelters, and provide a place to snag some bugs.

Delight in dead wood. And if you must cut a dead tree down, save some of the dead wood, suggests Roth. In her new book, she suggests taking a dead piece of wood 7 to 8 inches in diameter, and setting upright it in a natural spot, perhaps planting some ferns around it, to draw birds. This could not only look pretty, but will draw thrushes, towhees, and other "woodsy" birds to check out your display. She suggests also using dead wood as a free feeder. Dig a hole in the ground to vertically secure the piece of wood in the ground (in an area free of cats), and then spread nut butters or suet right onto the bark or bare wood. Leave your dead flower garden standing If you think a garden full of dried-up, dead plants is ugly, you'll likely change your mind when you start noticing nuthatches, titmice, and chickadees scouring the branches for insect and spider eggs, or you see cardinals and goldfinches perching on stems and eating seeds from the plants.

Plants such as rudbeckia, sunflowers, asters, and others that hang onto their seeds through the fall (and sometimes winter) are particularly good for goldfinches and siskins. However, native plants that drop their seeds are also valuable to the greater number of birds that will search the ground for this seed source. They are very adept at finding tiny seeds that would be virtually invisible to us. Late-flowering native wildflowers (the kinds vary in each region) provide nectar to lingering pollinators (bees, beetles, flies, and so forth), which will in turn, feed birds like migratory "fall warblers" that hunt for insects on their way south.