How to - Wildlife

Help increase bird populations

Laura Langston

Unless we act fast, some of our feathered friends may be singing their swan song

Berry-producing plants are an excellent food source. “Birds love mountainash [Sorbus] and Russian olive [Elaeagnus angustifolia] as well as chokecherry [Prunus virginiana] and Rosa multiflora,” says Cannings. “Snowberry and firethorn [Pyracantha] fruit might be ignored until late winter, but they’ll go after them in March when there’s little else left.” (For more options, see below.)  

Feeders are also helpful. Knowledgeable retailers can help you select the right feeder for your region, as well as one that will suit the kinds of birds you’re trying to attract. As a general rule of thumb, Cannings says small black-oil sunflower seeds appeal to a wide variety of seed-loving birds, while suet will draw species such as woodpeckers. (Also see What to feed the birds for seed recommendations, and Create a bird paradise in your backyard for feeders)

Finally, don’t forget to provide shelter. Trees and shrubs offer safety and security, but some birds (chickadees and nuthatches, for example) are cavity nesters. Providing a nesting box or birdhouse will attract them to your garden. Make sure the nesting box is well away from predators such as cats, raccoons and squirrels.

Best plants for attracting birds

Every garden—big or small—can be transformed into a bird sanctuary; the key is to provide a multilayered habitat with plenty of native plants that provide year-round shelter and sustenance. Here are some of the best for attracting birds.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) Zone 3
River birch (Betula nigra) Zone 4
Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) Zone 4
Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) Zone 3
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Annual
Bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula) Zone 4
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) Zone 3
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) Zone 4
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) Zone 3
Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) Zone 3 —Stephen Westcott-Gratton

According to a recent Audubon Society study, some bird populations are experiencing historic declines:

Evening grosbeak, down 78%
Boreal chickadee, down 73%
Eastern meadowlark, down 72%
Field sparrow, down 68%
Grasshopper sparrow, down 65%
Snow bunting, down 64%
Common grackle, down 61%
Whippoorwill, down 57%
Horned lark, 56%
Ruffled grouse, down 54%

Read more in How to and Wildlife

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