Creating A Safe and Happy Habitat For Birds in Your Garden

A snack of birdseed with berries mixed in.

The Habitat For Birds Parenting Guide

If you decide to create a bird habitat as part of your personal garden ecosystem, bear in mind that there are responsibilities you need to commit to. It sounds wonderful if you have the time, money and thought to put into it. If not, it's better to just feed and watch the birds. I say this because the better my bird habitat becomes, the more work i need to do to keep the gardens well-designed to accommodate them and keep the birds, safe. And to protect my landscapes as well. 

I liken it to keeping your eye on a curious, adventurous 2 yr-old. Things you don't notice if you choose to feed and birdwatch, are quite evident when you develop a habitat especially for birds. The least of which, will be the commitment to keep the birdfeeders and birdbaths clean and filled. I've had so much pollen and algae to clean up this year, i grew weary of cleaning things every few days. Once you begin your habitat, and birds become used to where the food and water is, you need to keep it up, so that it's available to them all four seasons per year.

Birdseed gets expensive. I have several barn-type hopper feeders that hold 5-8 lbs. of seed. Pest birds like noisy Gackles, blackbirds and squirrels will eat you out of house and home, and the smaller birds won't get food unless you opt for feeders that deter large birds and squirrels. My birds love the birdbaths for drinking and splashing in. I've added solar fountains that fit in the bowls to move the water, and they love it. If you do use birdbaths, keep them filled all summer, and if you're unlucky enough to suffer through a heat wave, remember that very hot water in the birdbath is a bad thing. I add ice cubes or cold water during the hottest parts of the day. 

Birds have a routine once you start them on it, so you do have to remember that when feeding and providing necessities. Birds seem to be little garbage disposals and will eat a lot of the stuff humans are throwing out. I refer to this list first. 
Adding your throwaways will supplement the birdseed, save you a lot of money, and create a lot of interest in returning to your feeders.

Your gardening habits will change a little. I've had to do some creative planting and pruning to avoid cutting branches holding nests. Pulling out seedlings that inevitably sprout under feeders unless you have seed catchers on the ground.. (i don't use them because i'm opposed to attracting rodents). I do like to insert feeder poles inside receptacles or plants filled with only dirt or stones, so that I don't have to deal with it. If you have been successful in creating a habitat, your garden will contain plants for food and shelter. Removing these will require some thought. Birds live in or return to their safe havens and raise their young in these areas. 

Words of Wisdom....You will also begin to look before cutting and removing branches because if birds are nesting and breeding, they will protect their space. I know this because i've been chased across the yard by many a screeching robin and other large birds that thought i was threatening their babies when i forgot that wisdom. If you have berries growing for food, you may need to cover them with bird netting to protect them from hungry birds. I do not, as i have enough food in feeders and growing naturally on shrubs and plants to keep them satisfied. Birds also eat a lot of bugs, so they won't bother your stuff if your feeders are concentrated in an area away from your fruiting plants. I'm happy to say that I haven't been pestered by mosquitoes or aphids for years. My garden contains plants that will provide berries in the winter, when birds are foraging for food. Keep at least one birdfeeder filled and accessible in the winter. You shouldn't stop feeding or providing water once birds have gotten used to your source and decided to stay for the winter. I leave a fairly large amount of dead branches and brush around for their sheltering needs.


The Most Vicious Predator in Your Bird Habitat.... The Neighbor's Cat

Nuance and Suggestion in the Tweety and Sylvester Series

Indiscrimate cutting and removing of landscaping will give predators like feral 
and roaming pet cats a way to stalk and get at the birds and their babies.

We all know Parents of a roaming cat, or those who just feed feral cats outdoors, and here's the rant... 
You can scroll past it, if you like.

I feel awful when my birds are shredded to pieces by a cat. I feel guilty that I lure the birds here with food and shelter, and a place to breed. 

I have found little carcasses of birds that roaming cats manage to torture and place in my fountains as a prize that needs to be dealt with. They hunt for sport. I am diligently and sadly removing the poor little birds, whole or in part, and cleaning out my fountains and broken decor. Unfortunately, I know from years of experience, that many cat parents can be told a 1000 times to keep their cats indoors or find a way to keep it confined outside in their own yards. The rest of us do not want the cats in our yard. 
Science tells us that cats also carry parasites.
This reasoning is 1000% ineffective, and you will hear 1000 different excuses. 
They will Not do it. 
Even when i point out to the cat person that several of my flowers, especially my lilies, will poison a cat if it eats any part of it, or licks pollen off itself later.....
They STILL will NOT do it...
Why aren't you kneeling in mulch soaked in cat pee?
Why isn't picking up dead birds part of your yardwork routine?
I spend a lot of time and money replacing broken solar lights, light strings and pottery pieces that roaming cats have destroyed. There's a 0% chance that the cat owner would reimburse me for that. Some pieces are handmade, and some pieces are vintage and irreplaceable. An unfair, but obvious truth is that if i let my dog wander the property of others, she's be picked up by the doggie police and brought to doggie jail. And i'd have to pay a hefty  fine to get her back. Not so with the  gallavanting predator cat. 

"But they keep the rodent population down"..... 
Puhleez...and so, they are entitled to destroy personal property  and wildlife in habitats that are clearly designed for security and safety in breeding. My dog and I will take care of our rodents, you take care of your cats. Fair deal.

"But they're not my cats... I just feed them outside". 
I won't even waste time responding to feeding and encouraging feral cat populations. 
And let's be clear, shall we? "My cat wears a bell" is a ridiculous excuse for allowing your cats to roam. 
Putting a bell on your cat won't stop it from hunting and scoring more often than not. I have a lot of landscape cover for the bird shelters. They wouldn't know where that ringing was coming from. I have windchimes and serenity bells that the birds hear all day, and they are comfortable enough with a bell sound to allow themselves to feel safe feeding and perching.

Feral barn cats have a job to do. To keep rodents out. Off their own property.
End of Rant. 

Now and then, you might be called upon to be a caregiver. 

Mostly when babies hatch and are kicked unceremoniously out of their nests before they can fly. There is about a 3-day gap between when Mama kicks them out and when the babies learn to lift off. I'd say at least one baby bird out of the brood will meet a bad end. They've fallen, flown into windows they can't see, or ended up attacked by a roaming cat hunting the area while they just flop around. Mama bird watches them while they learn, but most times cannot save them during that period of time. I am able to hear rustling in the garden where a baby is trying to flee or fly. I do pick them up and move them to a safe area within plantings where they have at least a chance against predators. I've fortunately had 100% success in relocating baby birds and saving their lives. There will be certain situations when you can't help. It's part of the dedication. Birds might be placed in a safe place, but they won't stay there, and there's not much you can do about where they end up. I would guess that maybe 50 percent of the brood will not make it. Often, eggs will fall out or be stolen from the nests.

Predators include large, aggressive birds. There is also a factor i didn't factor in. My garden's decor and things needed in gardening, such as trellises, decorative fencing, and hanging things. I perform rescues on a regular basis of small birds who somehow get their heads or feet stuck in something ridiculous. I am available in the garden every day, but not every minute, and birds will end up hurt or worse. Short of removing these items, which i refuse to do because of their necessity as tools or structures, i do a garden check every evening to see what they've gotten into. It's amazing to me how much mischief a bird can get into. The meaning of the term "bird brain" is quite appropos. They're smart enough to remember where food and water are, but not how to keep themselves from getting stuck in something. I am, however, thoughtful about things like suet hangers, making sure they can't get their toes stuck in the teeny space near the opening of the basket. I've rescued many small birds that I found hanging upside down with their toes caught in a space in the basket. It's not easy to get the squirming bird's foot out. There's a very real fear that you'll amputate something while trying. But you're not going to let a bird in a panic hang upside down for long. I adjust everything to allow space for a little bird to get out of it.

Unwanted Birds in Your Habitat

Along with a beautiful and welcoming habitat, you will probably need to deal with unwanted, aggressive birds in your yard, stealing food, destroying decorative items, and making noise. Starlings are one of these species. They drive me to distraction sometimes. Usually arriving in flocks every single day until i keep the feeders empty for a while. 

"These are naturally aggressive birds that won't hesitate to injure or kill other birds as they seek out the best food sources and nesting sites. This can devastate more timid bird species and has had drastic effects on populations of some North American native birds. Starlings are fast, fertile breeders, with a single mated pair raising 2-3 broods each year, with each brood producing 5-8 new starlings to join the flock. This tremendous population growth and can lead to starlings quickly overtaking native species and causing extreme competition for limited resources." - The Spruce
Here's a good article about getting rid them. Discouraging Starlings From Your Yard

Design in multiple layers, just as Nature does. Main planting, understory, and vertical on stakes or trellises..

Select plants that will provide berries, seeds, and nuts during different seasons, and evergreens for winter shelters. I leave the tall, woody bare trees without pruning, and some brush is neatly, but naturally piled and available all winter for the birds. 

I know it sounds radical... Limit or eliminate your lawn for less mowing, fertilizing, watering, and pollution and to make more room for native species. 
I dug up front and backards by hand with a pitchfork, to eliminate grass. I planted a clover lawn, which is a great substitute, and eliminated grass in one garden altogether.

I discovered a fake grass runner available at home improvement stores and Amazon, intended for training puppies to use grass, as a wonderful way to add grass without having to mow it. I put it in several areas (pathways) for my dog to use, instead of digging holes in the ground. They have little holes and a rubber back to keep moisture away. I like it myself for decorating little nooks in my gardens. Under tables and chairs sets and benches. It can be easily cut and using landscape staples keeps it just where you want it. It's washable with a hose, and permeable. It comes in varying lengths and widths. 

Plants For Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are an American bird species, found nowhere else in the world.

Plants below marked with a * tend to be a bit invasive if not grown in pots in my gardens. 
If you're covering a large, wild area as a habitat, that's a good thing.
Check the USDA Hardiness Map to be sure a plant will survive in your garden.
Peruvian Lily
Virginia Bluebells
Bee Balm - also a bee and butterfly magnet
*Butterfly Weed
Mexican Sunflower
Bleeding Heart
Tulip Tree
Black Locust
Clematis Vine - I grow these in large pots to avoid too much spreading
Beauty Bush
Honeysuckle- I grow these in pots at the base of fences and walls
Coral Bells
Cardinal Flower
Obedient Plant
Raspberry - spreads by shoots
*Trumpet Vine
*Trumpet Creeper
*Morning Glory - Too invasive for my Zone 5 garden. I cannot seem to get rid of this growing wild in my garden. It grows quickly on everything. including stems of other plants.
Flowering Quince
Butterfly Bush
Witch Hazel
Rose of Sharon

Recreate a habitat that was once native to your area - woodland, wetland, etc. - which will attract birds native to those habitats. You can look up gardens in a particular era, and choose plants from that.

Scatter your areas for birdfeeders and birdbaths. I use raised bowls for birds who don't like hanging feeders or who prefer foraging on the ground. Birdfeeders and baths are used all day in my gardens. And every tree has nesting birds, breeding their families. They do use the birdbaths for drinking and splashing. My birds use it mostly early in the morning and early evening. Some wait patiently on line for their turns.. My solution is to have 4 in front yard, 4 or more in the backyard. I always manage to have a birdbath crack from cold weather or just because. I use them on or off their pedestals and fill with birdseed. Water doesn't rot the seeds, because it's cracked and the water drains out. I also unscrew the damaged tops from bases, and fill them with soil and succulent plants as a display piece here and there. I'll use the bottom to hold up other flat planters or bowls. Nothing goes to waste here.

Audobon artwork


If you'd like to design a bird and butterfly habitat, feel free to download this design to help.
Just click the pic.

This is a pretty design for a habitat area, too!
click to download

Bold Woodland Garden Design

The Bird Habitat Library and Supplies. I have several of these items and I recommend them.

Squirrel Baffle

Large Capacity 
Hopper Feeder
My gardens have more than 10 birdbaths and suet feeders, and 4 large hopper feeders.
And i go through about 100 lbs. of bird seed per month for two large gardens.

I serve lots of suet.

My region's 
specific bird blend

my habitat has several roosting pockets/hummingbird houses

Recipes for Bird Treats--->


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