Turn Up the Volume

A songbird garden guarantees a joyful noise.

By Cristina Santiestevan


Gardeners select plants for their visual beauty, aromatic splendor, or edible glory. We see our gardens, we smell our gardens, and we taste our gardens. But do we listen to our gardens? By focusing on plants that attract songbirds, we can create gardens that literally sing.

“Birdsong has two primary purposes,” explains Sergio Harding, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries: “To establish a territory and to attract a mate.” Thus, incorporating birdsong into a garden is as simple as creating an environment that encourages songbirds to settle down and raise a family. How to do that? “Think like a bird,” says Cliff Fairweather, a naturalist and the Northern Virginia organizer for Audubon at Home, the Audubon Society’s backyard wildlife habitat education program. “What does a bird need to survive? Food, water, shelter, and space are the key components of habitats that birds seek.”

To plan an audible garden, think about the birds you’d like to attract and the sorts of environments they prefer.

learn how to attract songbirds to your gardenMusical Phenoms: Bluebirds, Robins, and Other Thrushes

Field guides use terms like ethereal, liquid, flutelike, and hauntingly beautiful to describe these birds’ voices. “The thrushes have, for my money, the most beautiful songs of North American songbirds,” says Fairweather. “The veery actually sings in harmony with itself.”

  • Live in a range of habitats. Robins and bluebirds prefer fields, yards, and open woods, while the remaining thrushes seek forests and shrubby habitats.
  • Eat insects and fruit.
  • Nest in trees and shrubs or on the ground. Bluebirds nest in cavities.
  • Attract with grasses, shrubs, and trees. Some species are true forest-dwellers. Nesting boxes entice bluebirds.