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Upper Midwest Gardening: Attract Birds to Your Yard

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Use flowers, trees, and other plants to attract birds to your yard.

woodpecker
bunch of flowers

Plant a Bird Buffet
This photo illustrates why I love where I live. This pileated woodpecker (largest woodpecker in North America) wakes me up every morning, drumming his way around my garden. It's wildlife at its finest.

And now that spring is alive, I anxiously await the migration of birds that will stop by my house for visits - a quick refueling before moving farther up north. And that's why I've made an effort to plant a combination of flowers, trees and shrubs that I love, but give the birds what they need too.

Native plants are perfect examples. They are beautiful and the perfect lazy-gardener plants since they don't require a lot of attention and thrive in our climate. They too are magnets for wild birds looking for food.

They find their favorites in my yard: yarrow, black-eyed Susan, columbine, purple coneflower and asters. Also included in the bird buffet are: zinnias, marigolds, bachelor's button, sunflowers and daisies. The goldenfinches, sparrows and cardinals eat up the seeds.

purple flowers

I always include salvia, impatiens, cardinal flower, beebalm, coralbells and petunias for hummingbirds searching for sips of sweet nectar.

cherries

Crabapples are a great resource for hungry birds, especially during winter months, when food is scarce. And for home gardeners, crabapple trees offer a big bang for the buck. Loaded with lovely scented flowers in the spring, shade in summer, and glorious fruits in the fall and winter. (I especially love tucking in sprigs of crabapples in my fall wreaths.)

Many shrubs - serviceberry, mountain ash, barberries, sumac and viburnum - provide tasty treats. Also give your birds a place to hide! Birds love ducking into boxwood, junipers, raspberry bushes, viburnum and yew.

I also keep bird feeders fully stocked to ensure the widest variety of feathered flyers. And if I'm lucky, one of them will pick my yard to have a family!

bird house

Homebuilding
I always offer nesting materials: yarn, string or raffia cut into 4- to 8-inch pieces; human or animal hair (especially horsehair); feathers; cotton batting; and moss. I stuff them into a gourd drilled with holes, or a netted onion/orange bag from the produce department, which I then hang from a tree branch. It's a bird's version of Lowe's.

Other bird-attracting tips:

  • Since some flowers are slow to produce buds right away, I put out small, shallow lids of grape jelly and orange halves. Northern orioles love them!
  • Did you know? In the United States it is unlawful to collect bird's nests.

See more Midwest Gardening Articles.