Attracting Birds to Your Center

Birds can be an invaluable attraction to your center and a point of both delight and learning for the children who observe them. But luring a variety of feathered friends to your neck of the woods is far more difficult that just setting out a couple of feeders. Find out how to turn your center into a bird magnet.

My ongoing struggles to attract birds to our new, much smaller home garden and to help my grandson choose a new bird feeder have caused me to reflect on what makes a winter garden bird friendly. Attracting birds to your site is more complex than just hanging up a bird feeder.

Birds have several needs that must be meet in order to attract them to your site. They will need food, water, shelter and safe place to raise their young come spring. Creating a multi-layered landscape with a variety of plant materials will accommodate the widest preferences of different birds. Let's talk more about each requirement.


Food preferences vary among species, location and the time of year. During the winter, birds have exhausted their normal food supplies. Shorter days mean less time foraging, and their selection of fruit and berries has dwindled. You can use a combination of natural food sources and feeders to supplement the bird's winter diet.

Different types of feeders will attract different types of birds. Some birds like to perch when they eat; some like to face their food, and others prefer to eat on the ground. Having a variety of different types of feeders, such as platform and cylinder, and a multi-purpose bird food will help ensure a variety of birds visit your feeding stations. Providing supplemental seeds for birds will not change their migration habits; birds migrate by sensing the increasing length of the days and will therefore move on when necessary, regardless of the buffet you have provided.

When adding plant materials to your outdoor environment, choose those that offer not only shade, texture and variety, but those that add to the local birds' food supply. Choose laden-berry trees and shrubs such as bayberry, viburnum, and crabapple. Select plants that produce winter seedpods that birds enjoy, such as native grasses, asters, coneflowers, sedums, cosmos, sunflowers and zinnias. I like the native grasses, as they add texture and shape to the winter landscape and are beautiful with snow and ice tops. It is also an exciting plant for children, since they can be involved in giving the grasses their spring “haircut” that will remove the dead seed pods right before the spring growth spurt.

When feeding birds, it is best to establish the bird feeding station away from where children can have unsupervised access, so place your feeding areas with care. To eliminate any possibility of transmission of disease from the birds, children should always wash their hands after handling bird feeders. And don't forget that feeders need to be cleaned on a regular basis.


Have you ever watched a bird take a bath in the spring? It is the most glorious and interesting ritual. Birds need year-round access to water, which can be a powerful magnet to your space. Birdbaths offer a quick and easy way to provide water at any time of year, but even a shallow waterproof container such as a glazed plant saucer or rock with a depression will work. If you are in a cold climate, you will need to buy a heater for your birdbath from the local hardware store.


Birds need protection from the harsh winter wind and must feel protected in order to stop and feed. Try to use a variety of heights of plant materials and make sure to have evergreens for a winter shelter. My birds love my newly planted pyramidal juniper. It is dense yet soft for birds to escape into. Spruce, pines and junipers will also add shelter to your environment in the winter.

Don't forget to help your feathered friends make their spring nests. When cutting down grasses, always leave several of the sheaths lying around for the birds to collect to make spring nests. Birds also will love your center's dryer lint. Collect it in an onion bag and string from a higher perch on a nearby tree.

With thoughtful planning for birds with various needs, you will be sure to attract the largest variety of birds. And, while you are out there, consider participating in the 11th Annual Backyard Bird Count February 15-18, 2008. The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages all ages in counting birds to create a snapshot of where bird are across the continent at a given time. You can count birds at your center, at home or even your place of work. To find out more about the Great Backyard Bird Count, a project of the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, go to their informative website,