How to attract birds to your garden

A black-capped chickadee. HH Fox Photography / Getty Images


The Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero program helps you transform your backyard into an inviting oasis for birds.

If your goal is to have more feathered friends in your Denver backyard, it might be time to transform your property, says Allison Holloran, executive director of Audubon Rockies and vice president of National Audubon Society. With help from Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero Programwe help you get started.

Choose plants that actually belong here

Birds, insects and plants evolved side by side. Namely: A moth caterpillar feasts on mountain mahogany, a common shrub in the foothills. The rose-breasted cardinal, in turn, longs for the moth caterpillar and has evolved to forage for food in the mountain mahogany. If you replace the mountain mahogany in your garden with a plant that the moth caterpillar won’t eat, the grosbeak will stop coming. To visit plants to enter your zip code and find out which bird magnets belong to your area.

Another way to regroup

Planting a variety of different sized flowers, shrubs and trees will attract a wider range of birds, so aim for a mix of colors, textures and sizes. But too random a layout can backfire. Plant several of the same flowers together, so pollinators like hummingbirds can more easily find larger clumps of its food source.

Break with pesticides

If you want birds, you need insects. So before you buy your native plants, check with the seller that they haven’t been treated with systemic pesticides, insecticides that absorb and distribute throughout the plant. Try an insecticidal soap instead. The product uses fatty acids, not poison, to suffocate insects that land on the substance. The soap washes off, offering only temporary protection, but it helps give the grower a break without spreading a toxin through, say, the bumblebee population.

Provide additional shelter

With the passage of predators or a bad gust of wind, the birds appreciate the cover of a thicket. Plant a dense hedge or climbing vines; alternatively, build a brush pile (a pile that isn’t too close to your house, in case of fire) by piling thin branches on top of thicker branches, giving ground dwellers a place to hide.

Do not overdo the maintenance of the garden

Birds prefer a lightly neglected yard to a perfectly manicured yard. So let go of your perfectionism. When a cold snap cracks the dead seeds of annuals, leave them there to feed the birds. Rake leaves from under bushes instead of loading them into garbage bags destined for the landfill. The decaying material attracts insects and can be used in nests.

Keep your cat indoors

According to American Conservatory of Birds, cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds per year, compared to one billion deaths from collisions with glass. If your cat likes to be outside, put it on a leash. otherwise, keep them indoors. And treat your windows with one-way transparent film – you can still see, but the stuff erases tempting reflections from trees or the sky.

Learn more about birding in Colorado

Angela Ufheil

Angela Ufheil

Angela Ufheil co-creates the Compass section of 5280 and writes for

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