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Attracting Birds: The Upside of Downsizing

Bird WatchingBirdwatching is a wonderful hobby, and one that we can all enjoy at home. You need not have a big yard to attract birds, and downsizing does not have to mean downplaying your interest in attracting and watching birds! Even if you find yourself living in a smaller house, or in an apartment or condo, there are many things that you can do to attract a variety of birds to your smaller yard, balcony, or porch.  It may come as a surprise, but the key to attracting birds to smaller places is not necessarily bird feeders.

Use Your Green Thumb

Add as many plants as possible to your yard or patio, and opt for native plants, which provide an important food source for backyard birds. Select plants that are attractive to birds—hanging baskets full of red flowers will draw hummingbirds, and potted bright yellow sunflowers will bring goldfinches. Plants also provide shelter—and even nesting sites—for birds. A nice, full planter fern may be just the place for a House Finch or Carolina Wren to secret its nest away.

Help Birds Drink Up

Provide a fresh water source, either a simple birdbath or small fountain. Water is a very important resource for all birds, especially in summer and winter, and a reliable supply of it will not go unnoticed for long!  Moving water will draw more birds more quickly than standing water, and it will also attract many fewer mosquitos.  There are lots of commercial drips and recirculating pumps on the market, and many DIY options available, too. Make your own by hanging a plastic water jug with a loose cap and a pinhole in the bottom above a shallow dish. Birds will be splashing in their new bath in no time.

Provide a Place to Rest and Nest

Go ahead and put up a bird nest box (for chickadees or wrens) or a nesting shelf (for robins or doves), both of which can be purchased at garden stores. Do not worry that it is too close to your back door or sliding door.  Species like wrens that nest in cavities have limited options for nesting, and they will inspect and use any suitable nesting cavity, no matter how close it is to your house. 

You can also attract nesting birds by putting out nesting material for them.  Short lengths (2-3 inches) of colored strings draped over a thin wooden dowel may attract a Baltimore Oriole.  Pet fur that has been brushed out, collected, and placed in a wire cage or mesh bag will attract nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice in the spring when it is hung close to a place where birds can perch, like a tree, a bush, or a railing. My birds empty our “fur feeder” several times each season!  Be sure to use only fur that has not been treated with topical chemical pesticides.

Provide a Food Source

Sure, you can put up a couple of bird feeders, too!  One should be a nectar feeder for hummingbirds. A second feeder can dispense a small amount of “no mess” seed mix, which is hulled sunflower seeds, peanut pieces, and the like. 

Be Bird-Friendly and Bird-Safe

Last, but not least, keep your avian oasis bird-friendly and bird-safe by always keeping your cat indoors. Adding window treatments is one way to prevent birds from striking the outside-facing windows. ABC Birds is a great reference for tips on creating a safe haven for birds at home.

Now you can sit back and enjoy the anticipation and excitement that comes from waiting and watching for birds to discover the small oasis you have created for them. 

About the National Aviary

The National Aviary, located in Pittsburgh, is home to over 500 birds representing more than 150 species. Visit to learn about upcoming classes, bus tours and travel opportunities, and to plan your visit.

Article written by Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary Ornithologist.


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