How to create a bird watching backyard

Published 3:22 pm Friday, April 23, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior.

Since retiring last year, Ive really gotten into bird-watching, but would like to attract more birds to my backyard. Whats the easiest way to do this, and what resources can you recommend for learning more about bird watching?

Bird-Watching Barney

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Dear Barney,

Backyard bird watching, or birding as many call it, is a great hobby shared by millions of retirees. To help you create a backyard thats literally for the birds, you need three basic ingredients: food, water and shelter. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Do some homework

Your first step in creating a bird-friendly backyard is to become familiar with the bird species that reside in or migrate through your area, and determine which kinds of these birds you want to attract to your yard. A great source that can help is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (, which offers a free online Bird Guide and a comprehensive section on Attracting Birds. After youve done a little homework, youre ready to start with the basics.

Provide food

Birds, like humans, appreciate a good meal. But birds diets are diverse. Some gobble up seeds, nuts, berries, buds, or insects, while others prefer fruit, nectar, or sugar water. To attract a wide variety of birds, get several types of bird feeders for your yard and offer a variety of foods. The type of feeders and food obviously needs to match the types of birds you want to attract. Natural sources of food are also very appealing, so depending on the climate you live in, consider planting some berry-producing scrubs and vines, fruit-bearing trees, and seed-producing plants such as sunflower and purple coneflowers.

Shelter, too

Cover is as important to birds as food. They feel more secure if they have shelter to protect themselves from the wind, cold and their enemies. The best kinds of cover are trees and large shrubs that give them a place to hide as well as raise and protect their young. Or you can buy a bird house or two specifically designed for the birds you want to attract (a store-bought birdhouse should include this information).

Add water

Providing clean, fresh water will attract birds to your yard quicker than anything else you can do. They need it to drink, of course, but they are especially attracted to shallow water (one to two inches deep) where they can bathe. A simple solution here is to purchase a birdbath, and keep it clean. Birds are also attracted to the sound of running water, so consider adding a mister, dripper, or circulating pump to your birdbath, or purchase one that has a built-in fountain. And for the winter months in cold climates, water heaters are available to keep the water from freezing so you can provide a constant water source year-round.

Savvy Tips: To learn more about birding and attracting birds to your yard, the National Audubon Society ( is a great resource that provides lots of information on its website along with links to your local chapter. It also offers The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds book for $25 that you can order through or through the Cornell University Press at 800-666-2211.

Another good resource is the free online booklet called For the Birds (see written by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Also see the American Birding Association Web site (, another excellent resource for bird watchers.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.