What can you provide to encourage birds to visit your backyard?

All birds need three basic things from their habitat: food, water, and shelter.

Birds eat the fruit, seeds, and nectar from a variety of plants. They also eat insects and other small animals that thrive in a healthy ecosystem.

Birds drink fresh water wherever it collects–from rain or sprinklers, even leaking water fountains. They can also get moisture from food.

Plants provide birds with safe places to sleep, hide from predators, and raise their young. Plants also give shade from the heat, shelter from winter snows, and a dry place when it rains.

What do the plants get out of it?

Plants don’t get around much. They need help from the natural elements and birds and other animals to reproduce. Some birds species help plants by carrying pollen from one flower to another.

Seeds that sprout farther away from the parent plant may have a better chance of surviving. Plants rely on wind, gravity, water, and animals to spread their seeds. Many birds eat the fruit and seeds of shrubs and trees then poop them out after they fly away. Watch out!

What are birds doing in your yard?

Birds behave in different ways depending on the time of year. You can help birds find sanctuary in your home garden by planting and pruning with their needs in mind.


Birds are building their nests to raise their young. Leaving small piles of plant stems, twigs, and vines from winter and early spring pruning provides birds with plenty of construction material.


Birds are seeking relief from summer heat and pests. Filling shallow depressions in rocks with water gives birds something to drink to cool down. Leaving patches of bare ground provides a place for birds to take “dust baths” to get rid of pesky parasites.


Birds are eating high-fat seeds and fruits to build up reserves for migration and winter survival. Leaving seed heads on plants will provide the food that will fatten up the birds for the winter.


Birds are searching for shelter from the cold. Planting evergreen trees and shrubs in the garden will give birds protection from the harsh winter weather.

What types of plants best attract birds to the garden?

Local and migratory birds have evolved to depend on native plants for food and shelter.

Some local birds eat many types of berries, seeds, or insects. But some have a very restricted diet, and only eat from specific native plants.

Not all plants imported from other habitats are bad for birds. However, invasive plants, like Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and English ivy (Hedera helix), are bullies, crowding out the native plants that some birds need to thrive.

A diverse, healthy ecosystem containing native plants bests meets the needs of wild birds.

Three good native plants for the DC garden include:

Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

This dense, twiggy shrub provides nesting shelter for birds in the spring and early summer and yummy blue-black fruits in the late autumn into winter. The glossy dark green leaves turn red and purple in the fall.

Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera)

Birds love the small, grayish berries of this native, evergreen shrub. And this plant needs the birds–they digest the waxy covering from the fruit and poop out the seeds. Wax myrtle berries provide fat and fiber for more than 40 species of birds throughout the lean winter months.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

The flower blooms in the late May and early June with a orange-brown, cone-shaped center and droopy lavender petals. Bees and butterflies drink the nectar in early summer. But come autumn when the seed heads ripen, the purple coneflower provide a feast of seeds.

You can replace ornamental invasive plant species in your garden with native plants that have beautiful flowers and delicious berries for birds. Check with your local cooperative extension office or plant society for recommendations of plants that are appropriate for your area.