Bird feeders are not necessary to attract birds to your yard. For some homeowners, bird feeders bring pests such as squirrels and bees, or worse, bears.
Thankfully, you can attract birds without bird feeders by offering natural sources of food from a variety of native plants. Water sources and dry dirt baths are also appealing to many birds. Shelters in the form of birdhouses, roost houses, and shrubby dense areas are also ideal.
Whether you opt not to use feeders due to cost, bears, or landlord restrictions, the following things are what birds also love in yards.
Read on to learn how you can create a bird-friendly landscape.
9 Things That Attract Birds Without A Feeder
Several of the items below describe the types of plants that can be used to attract birds. Refer to the plant hardiness zone map or your local gardening store for the best native plants for your area.
Consider planting a healthy mix of native, colorful plants to get a variety of birds to visit. This forms an abundant ecosystem of birds and pollinators.
Birds will have successful nesting and healthy broods when they have access to ample food supplies.
Native plants tend to promote higher diversity and increased populations of invertebrates as compared to non-native vegetation.
Insects are a large part of many birds’ diets. Typically, birds feed on insects (and larvae forms) for water and protein.
Protein sources are in higher demand during the breeding season to provide food for their growing nestlings.
To attract insects, plant native-friendly plants, shrubs, and trees that insects like. Insects pollinate flowering plants and help produce fruits and vegetables.
The following are some examples:
- White oak
- Black cherry
- Common chokecherry
- Black willow
- Pussy willow
- Fruit trees
- Garden plants
Avoid using insecticides to keep the bug supply ample for birds. Insecticides can cause secondary poisoning when birds eat infected bugs.
2. Berries & Fruits
Insects pollinate plants to produce flowers and vegetation. Many species of birds like fruits and berries too.
In addition to some of the plants mentioned above, consider planting blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, currants, or Aronia berry bushes.
Birds also enjoy orange slices, plums, apples, crabapples, prickly pears, and grapes. (See below about ground feeding.)
3. Seed Flowers
Seed-producing plants invite different kinds of seed-eating birds. These include sparrows, finches, towhees, cardinals, chickadees, doves, goldfinches, and more.
Examples of plants that produce seeds for birds are the following:
- Sunflower (many varieties)
- Purple coneflower
- Black-eyed Susan
- Blazing star
- Purple majesty millet
4. Nectar Flowers
Nectar-feeding birds such as orioles, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds drink nectar often from tubular flowers.
Tubular flowers tend to produce higher amounts of nectar, which include the following:
- Bee balm
- Wild bergamot
- Trumpet honeysuckle
- Cardinal flower
Other red-toned flowers that produce higher amounts of nectar are azaleas and rhododendrons.
5. Moving Water
Birds need water for both bathing and drinking. They especially like dripping or moving water (which also helps keep mosquitoes away).
Install a bird bath (or fountain) that is graduated to no deeper than 2 inches in the middle. If the water bath is too deep, add a few flat perching stones.
This is ideal so birds can safely perch on the lip for a drink, or move in towards the middle for a bath.
Add a battery- or solar-powered water wiggler, agitator, or bubbler to the bird bath to create movement.
Replace the water daily so birds have a healthy source. This helps to reduce the spread of bird diseases and keeps the water free from dirt and debris.
Ideally, water sources should be away from windows to avoid collisions. Place it in a shady or partially sunny, open spot so predators cannot hide and the birds can enjoy the water.
Instead of a bird bath, you can also use a shallow drainage plate that is typically used underneath potted plants.
6. Dust Bath
Chickens are known for taking regular dust baths.
However, even when water is available, other species of wild birds prefer dust baths too. These include house sparrows, thrushes, thrashers, wrens, and larks.
Dust baths exfoliate the skin, shed loose feathers, and smother parasitic insects.
To make a dust bath section in your yard, the birds need a place with dry soil. You can also use builder’s grade sand.
Put the soil or sand into a container that has drainage holes drilled into the bottom, if necessary. People use kiddie pools, shallow bins, old tires, and sandboxes, or create an area surrounded by logs, pavers, or large rocks.
It is best to put a bird dust bath near cover or brushy areas so they can quickly escape predators if necessary.
In addition to food and water sources, birds also need shelter for resting, preening, protection, and nesting.
Dense shrubs, brambles and vines, and coniferous trees provide shelter.
While these take time to grow, you can install birdhouses. You can attract birds to birdhouses by providing ones that are designed for different species (entrance-hole sizes vary).
Birdhouses should be mounted at least 5 feet high and away from busy areas of the yard.
You can also install roosting boxes in the winter. Roosting boxes, which are different from nesting boxes, offer protection in the winter months. They are designed to retain heat inside the box.
8. Piles Of Natural Materials
While humans like tidy yards, birds are attracted to piles of natural debris. You can reserve a small area in your yard for a “mess”.
This might include small piles of branches, leaves, and grass clippings. These will attract insects as well, providing the birds with food, nesting materials, and shelter.
These natural piles will decompose over time. This results in nutrient-rich decomposition that benefits the soil.
If possible, leave dead trees (snags) in place, which are desired by many birds for nesting and foraging.
Add logs and rocks to gardens as natural decor for birds to hide behind and forage for insects. Keep in mind, though, that snakes also hide in these spots.
9. Ground Food
Birds do not mind if food is scattered on the ground. However, this is a messy option that can invite other pests. Some seeds may sprout and grow as well, if left uneaten.
Larger birds, such as grackles, starlings, grosbeaks, cardinals, and bluebirds, feed from the ground. This is because many feeders are too small for them to perch on.
Simply throw sunflower seeds, peanuts, seed mixes, mealworms (for robins), and fruits (fresh or dried) onto the ground or a low stump. Alternatively, you can use an old cookie sheet or tray.
Put these foods out at dawn, when many birds are actively feeding.
You can also make a ground feeding block, which is essentially a very thick block of suet. Use a suet recipe and form the mixture in a larger plastic container to harden.
NEVER offer bread to wild birds. The bread will expand in their stomachs, become indigestible, and they can starve even if their belly is full.
The best way to attract birds to your yard without a feeder is to offer natural food sources, water, and shelter.
This can be done by planting a mix of native plants that invite insects and other pollinators in and produce nectar, fruits, and seeds.
Bird baths and dry soil or sandy areas offer ways for birds to drink and bathe.
With a little effort and patience, birds will discover that your yard is an oasis to live, eat, and raise their young.