Creating Habitat for Backyard Birds

Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-215


By Dale Evva Gelfand

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 21, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Since 1973, Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletins have offered practical, hands-on instructions designed to help readers master dozens of country living skills quickly and easily. There are now more than 170 titles in this series, and their remarkable popularity reflects the common desire of country and city dwellers alike to cultivate personal independence in everyday life.




Getting Involved

Making Your Yard a Habitat

The Biodiverse Native Garden

Feeding the Birds

Installing a Water Source

Providing Shelter

Planning Your Backyard Bird Habitat

The Right Landscape with the Right Plants

For Further Reading

Getting Involved

It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed by the large-scale threats to wild-bird populations — global warming, pollution, pesticides, wholesale destruction of tropical rain forests — that you just want to throw up your hands and yell, “It’s hopeless!” But it doesn’t have to be. Not if everyone with a yard decides to transform that yard into a welcoming mini sanctuary rather than the bird equivalent of the barren wasteland that many backyards currently are.

You can also take the ideas presented here and apply them on a larger scale by involving your neighborhood as a whole. One bird-friendly yard can be the jumping-off point for a whole string of bird-friendly yards, with you and your neighbors creating your very own greenbelt for both migratory and nonmigratory birds. Get local youth groups to start a rally-the-community project, educating everyone on the importance of using native, biodiverse plant species, which are critical habitat for countless creatures, instead of imported species — many of which have contributed to the demise of native habitat. Point out the benefits of improving bird habitat — for example, placing wren boxes near berry patches will reduce predation by berry-eating birds, as wrens are very territorial and will harass other birds that come near their nesting sites. And having insect-eating songbirds in and around your yard will be just as beneficial for your garden as pesticides, and a whole lot less toxic.

Whether the songbirds, raptors, or waterfowl will flourish or diminish in the coming decades is in large measure up to us all. And there’s no time like the present to start helping them.

Making Your Yard a Habitat

What is habitat exactly? The term refers to a combination of food, water, shelter, and space arranged to meet the needs of wildlife. Even a small yard can be landscaped to attract birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals if you provide the trees, shrubs, and other plants that supply wildlife with shelter and food.

The plants you supply for food and shelter will help determine the wildlife that’s attracted to your backyard. And of course any bird feeders, nesting boxes, and water that you provide will make your habitat even more immediately desirable to any bird that happens to be flying over.

The primary rule in what I will call habitat gardening is this: Practice conservation in your own backyard. The three most important actions you can take to arrive at this goal are:

1. Plant as many native plants as possible — which by virtue of their indigenous nature are best suited to your region — and do not plant any invasive exotic (nonnative) plants.

2. Control pests by natural means — that is, let nature take its course by encouraging beneficial insects (which are often killed off when pesticides are used), bats, and, of course, insect-eating birds to take up residence in your neighborhood.

3. Reduce the size of your lawn, which will cut down on mowing (thereby reducing air and noise pollution) and fertilizing. Although prized in landscaping, these large expanses of clipped green grass are otherwise unproductive spaces that could be filled with plants beneficial to wildlife.

The Pesticide Problem

Insects are a vital food source, especially for songbirds, woodpeckers, and ground birds such as quail and pheasants. As birds do such an excellent job of ridding our yards of insect pests, I can’t think of a better reason not to use pesticides — except one: They kill birds! Birds are poisoned when they ingest insects, worms, or seeds from plants or turf that have been treated with chemicals. Especially toxic are:

Furadan (Carbofuran), which comes in both liquid and granular forms. One granule mistaken for a seed will kill a bird instantly.

Spectracide (Diazinon), also available in liquid and granules — and lethal in either form.

Dursban (Chlorpyrifos), which is widely used to kill both house and garden pests but also kills young birds.

Kelthane (Dicofol), a miticide responsible for the deaths of peregrine falcons.

The Biodiverse Native Garden

The conventional concept of a garden is a small pocket of visual perfection (for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to deadhead those unattractive spent blooms lest they go to seed!) surrounded by expansive seas of perfectly manicured lawns — said ideal achieved only through hard work, chemical fertilizers, and rigorous watering. Well, this completely unnatural habitat is killing our natural environment. A garden should be a part of nature, not apart from nature.

Gardens should combine communities of plants that thrive as companions to each other and that, in turn, enable numbers of animals to survive. It’s important that the plants you select for your bird habitat not only provide natural (and year-round) foods such as fruits, seeds, nuts, and nectar, but also be indigenous, because our native plants and our wildlife are partners in evolution and maintain a synergistic relationship. In fact, restoration of native-plant communities to your yard should be the main emphasis of your habitat project. There’s nothing better for attracting local birds. And rest assured that these native species are no less beautiful than imported “exotics” — plus they’re a whole lot hardier.

Preserving Our Natural Heritage


On Sale
Feb 21, 2012
Page Count
32 pages

Dale Evva Gelfand

About the Author

Dale Evva Gelfand, author of Taking Time for Friends, is a freelance writer and photographer. A staunch believer in creating and preserving wildlife habitat, she has written other Storey titles that speak to her affinity for nature: Building Bat Houses, Grow a Hummingbird Garden, Creating Habitat for Backyard Birds, and Build a Bluebird Trail. She lives amid the Taconic hills of upstate New York.

Learn more about this author