How to attract birds to your yard

What’s the best way to encourage native birds to visit your backyard? Surprisingly, the answer may not be bird feeders. Instead, planting evergreen trees and fruit-bearing shrubs could be a more effective approach.

When people think of green space in cities, parks usually come to mind. But residents’ yards could offer a sprinkling of connected habitat patches for wildlife as well. “Often, however, the habitat potential of the urban matrix is underestimated and even ignored in urban conservation efforts,” write researchers in Ecological Applications.

To address that gap, the team studied 25 sites in the Chicago area, close to the city’s forest reserves and rivers. During the summer of 2012, one scientist surveyed birds at each site. The team also distributed questionnaires to 1,751 homes, asking residents about the types of trees and plants in their yards and whether they had bird feeders, bird houses, or other features that might attract wildlife.

Three dozen bird species were spotted at the sites, including American robins, American goldfinches, northern cardinals, and house sparrows. Nine hundred and twenty-four residents responded to the survey, and about a third of them had a bird feeder. But the team didn’t see much of a connection between the number of bird feeders and the number of native bird species present. The higher the ratio of evergreen to deciduous trees and the higher the fraction of yards with fruit- or berry-bearing plants, however, the more native bird species the team found.

Urban conservation programs, homeowners associations, and city agencies could encourage people to make their yards more friendly to native birds, the authors suggest. These improvements could strengthen residents’ connections with nature and improve biodiversity in poor areas without many parks. The team concludes: “Why not ask more from our residential landscapes?” Roberta Kwok | 11 December 2014

Source: Belaire, J.A., C.J. Whelan, and E.S. Minor. 2014. Having our yards and sharing them too: the collective effects of yards on native bird species in an urban landscape. Ecological Applications doi: 10.1890/13-2259.1.

Image © Jesse Nguyen | Shutterstock