Cardinal splashing in bird bath in lush garden

If you're a bird lover and want to draw a diverse range of bird life to your yard, you'll need more than just a birdbath or bird feeder. You need to attract birds the way a natural habitat would.

Creating a habitat for birds in your yard is not as difficult as it sounds. It just takes some planning, a combination of dense, diverse native vegetation for shelter, as well as water and food sources.

Let It Grow

To create a bird-friendly habitat, you'll need to forget about having a well-manicured yard. Birds are attracted to natural, dense growth, so let an area of your yard or garden grow uninhibited. Birds thrive on the seeds from these plants. Dead leaves, old brush and long grasses attract birds because they provide good nesting material and food, in the way of insects. You'll also need an area for abundant bushes, trees and flowers that attract and make local birds feel at home.

  • Use Native Vegetation

    Your bird habitat should be made up of plants native to your region. The reason for this is two-fold: local birds are accustomed to local plants and the plants will thrive in their natural habitat. Native plant species are adapted to local rainfall amounts and other weather patterns, as well as soil type. They require less maintenance, less assistance from chemical fertilizers and less watering, which makes it easier on you and the environment.

    Birds will flock to your habitat if they are comfortable with the plants there. Birds recognize regional trees and shrubs as sources of food and shelter from predators. Choose plants that produce seeds, berries and nuts.

    Helpful Tip

    If you're not sure which plants are best for attracting birds in your region, consult a local nursery or the friendly associates at your local True Value hardware store.

  • Plant Densely with Diversity

    Use a variety of plants densely planted in layers to attract a variety of birds to your habitat. Create these layers, or tiers, in your habitat by creating a gradual "step down" effect from tallest to shortest. Plant trees, surrounded by shrubbery, and then border this with flowers or grasses, for example.

    Some bird species may be attracted to flowers and some prefer perusing grasses for seeds, worms and insects. Others like to feast on berries and other fruits from bushes and trees. Different species may also visit separate areas of the habitat for particular functions, for example, feeding versus nesting.

    The density of the habitat's vegetation provides shelter and protection and opportunities for nesting. The more wide-open the space in your yard, the less protection there is for birds which decreases the chances of them visiting for long periods. Birds have many predators, be it larger birds or cats or other animals. Dense foliage hides or otherwise provides barriers from these predators and allows birds to thrive and nest in your habitat.

    Good locations for your habitat are corners of your yard, such as those adjacent to an already wooded area, or areas around buildings or other structures. The main objective is to cut down on wide-open spaces where birds feel unprotected.

    Helpful Tip

    When choosing plants, consider their natural cycles and what they provide to birds in particular seasons. Flowers and flowering shrubs provide nectar and thus insects for birds to eat. Nut or fruit trees provide food sources in late summer and fall. Evergreens provide shelter all year long.

Birdbaths and Bird Feeders

Sources of water and food to attract birds will complete your bird habitat. Offer clean water by supplying a classic pedestal birdbath, fountain, a combination of water-filled saucers or a water garden. A water garden or small pond is a great way to attract birds. Ponds can be stocked with fish, frogs, and insects and other critters that are attractive food sources to birds. To learn more about water gardens see the project Install An Outdoor Water Garden. No matter what kind of water source you provide, it's essential if you want birds to stick around.

A bird feeder is a big draw and possibly the most important part of your habitat. While you can buy a premade bird feeder, making one yourself can be a fun family project.

How to Build a Bird Feeder

  • Step 1: Choose a Location

    Where you put your bird feeder is just as important as the materials you use. Place the feeder outside a window or somewhere you can enjoy it from inside your home. Make sure the feeder is high enough (at least 6 feet tall) and far enough from any other structures (about 10 to 20 feet) to keep cats and squirrels from jumping onto the feeder. Placing the feeder on a freestanding post in the middle of an open space in your yard is ideal. If you can, keep the feeder close enough to bushes or trees to provide cover for the birds and a place to escape in the case of predators or competing species.

  • Step 2: Choose Your Wood

    Use treated wood, teak or cedar to build your bird feeder. These woods are ideal because of their resistance to the elements and pest infestation.

  • Step 3. Start Cutting

    Begin by cutting end panels from your boards using a table saw. Cut them 3½" wide at the base, 7½" tall and 5" wide. The tops of these pieces should form a 90-degree angle and be "pointed" like a triangle.

    Create grooves in the outside edges of these panels by cutting into them ½" from the edges and at a ¼" depth. These grooves will fit the "windows" on the sides of the feeder

    Next, cut two pieces for the feeder's roof. One piece will be 4½" x 9" and the second will be 5½" x 9" to form rectangular shaped slats. The feeder base should be cut at 5½" x 9". Cut thin strips of wood to be ¼" x 1¼". You will attach these along the outer edge of the base to create a lip that will keep birdseed on the feeder and for the birds to perch on.

    Measure and cut two pieces of acrylic sheeting for the "windows." These pieces will fit into the grooves you made in the end panels. Before making your cuts, remember to leave a space at the bottom of the acrylic pieces (about 1") for the seed to spill out onto the shelf for the birds.

  • Step 4: Assemble

    Piece together the sides and bottom of the bird feeder using wood glue and wood screws or nails. Save the roof pieces for last. Attach the strips you cut to form the lip along the base using a hammer and nails. Secure the post to the bottom of the feeder using a screwdriver and a 4" wood screw.

    Helpful Tip

    To make the job easier, use a power drill to make small starter holes before fastening the screws.

    Slide the acrylic pieces into the grooves you made on the end panels. Make sure there's a small gap at the bottom for the birdseed to spill onto the ledge.

    Next, attach hinges to the smaller roof piece using a screwdriver. Make sure the hinges are placed evenly on the roof piece equidistant from each side. Attach the larger roof panel to the feeder using wood glue and nails. Attach the hinges of the small roof piece to the large roof piece by screwing them on. Check to see that the smaller roof piece will open and close freely on its hinges. This creates a lid that you open to fill the feeder with food.

    Once the feeder is assembled, it's time to add it to your bird habitat and put it up. Using a small spade or post-hole digger, dig a hole 1' deep. Place the end of the post into the hole and then refill until the post is secure and upright.

    That's it! Now relax and wait for the birds to flock to your yard.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.