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How To Set Up A Backyard Bird Habitat

This isn’t a travel blog, but sometimes you don’t need to go farther than your own backyard to enjoy encounters with nature. Anyway, I have had three people get so excited watching all the wild birds outside my kitchen window that they decided to copy my set-up. They have become backyard bird enthusiasts. So, in case you too want to feed the birds and enjoy an easy hobby, I have decided to show you how to set up a backyard bird habitat.

American Goldfinches and male House Finch (in red) enjoying my feeder.

Backyard Bird Feeders

I have two feeders and hang them under the eave outside my kitchen sliding door. The birds don’t fly into the glass because they have to slow down to land on the feeder. Hanging feeders under a roof eave also helps keep the squirrels from raiding the feeders, although I do occasionally get squirrels who will climb up the screen and try to leap to the feeder. However,  I outwitted them by hanging a wind chime right in their line of flight (or leap). A few times the squirrels have hit the wind chime, scaring the bejeebers out of them and making them fall to the ground. I would show you a photo of the wind chime, positioned to the right of the tube feeder, but it’s it need of repair (from strong winds, not squirrels).

The bird feeder on the left has room for larger birds, leaving–theoretically–the tube feeder on the right for smaller birds.

One negative – the wind blows bits of seed onto the glass door. I have to scrub it off occasionally –  you can see it needs scrubbing now. But then again I have a very windy back yard.

Types of Bird Seed

Speaking of seed, I use shelled sunflower chips. Some people say its best to give the birds seeds that are not pre-shelled because it is good for their beaks, but I figure they can get that benefit somewhere else. They are still wild and don’t get ALL their food from my feeder. I think its okay. Anyway, the birds LOVE IT – and I like how it doesn’t leave a mess of shells on the ground. A Patio Mix seed (pre-shelled) is also good; it has something for everyone.

Pre-shelled, less mess, sunflower chips. Most birds love sunflower seeds.

Believe it or not, there is actually a difference in the quality of seed you can buy. I’ve bought seed that the birds wouldn’t touch, but when I changed brands they came in droves. So now I only buy my seed from wild bird stores. I shop at a local bird store called the Los Gatos Birdwatcher. Their seed is excellent and they have many wonderful products, including some funky socks that have nothing to do with birds. I’ve bought many pairs.

Male Goldfinches, female House Finch (brown at the top) and Male House Finch (red at the bottom)

How Often to Refill?

How often do I need to refill my feeders, you ask? During the non-busy season – Autumn and Winter – I’ll refill every two days, on average. But during Spring and Summer when the parents are nesting and feeding their ravenous young (you haven’t seen parents work so hard!), I refill every day.

It’s also a good idea to clean your feeders. You can see that I need to scrub the dome of this one. Plain water and an old sponge works, or you can use an equal mixture of distilled white vinegar and warm water. It might be helpful to pre-soak the feeders in a bucket of water and vinegar for several minutes before scrubbing.

Water and Shelter

Besides feeders, your backyard needs water and shelter. Moving water will attract birds, but they like still water too. Make sure you change the water often, they’ll appreciate it!  And your bird baths shouldn’t be too deep, one to two inches at most. One inch or less is best. It is sometimes hard to find bird baths that aren’t too deep, you’ll have to hunt around.

This basin slopes from less than an inch to one inch. The birds love the extra wide space.

Mourning Dove chillin’ on the basin.
Moving water attracts birds. Sometimes I’ll get a hummingbird bathing at the very top of the fountain.

If you are lucky, you might get some unusual guests!

A Cooper’s Hawk eyeing the photographer (that’s me).
It took 30 minutes for this Cooper’s Hawk to feel secure enough to actually bathe and not just stand in the water peering around at the sky.
Uh–they don’t just come for the water. I’ve lost a few birds and a squirrel too.

So, based on the above photo, you’ll agree that song birds need some shelter as well. We have a bank of tall trees but any trees or bushes will do.

Male House Finch

Bird Houses

You can also add bird houses, but they need to be the right size and design for different species. They also have to placed in the right area. Good luck with that – it’s kind of an art or a lucky guess. I’ve succeeded with the bluebird house (they come every year!) but not others. You can find out more from wild bird stores or search online for placement of bird houses.

Female Western Bluebird about to feed a juicy green caterpillar to her young. Both male and female feed the babies.

Protect Birds from Window Reflections

One other thing, please try to stop birds from flying into your windows. Up to a billion birds are killed annually in the US by flying into windows on buildings and houses. Like I said, feeders right under an eave will usually stop them, but they still might try to fly into other windows. If you notice a reflection of sky or trees in your glass, which will attract birds, you can do several things: partially draw the blinds; hang up a hawk silhouette; hang up indoor-window decor; or apply special glass film, or even install bird-safe glass. There are lots of options. Here are some good ideas from the Humane Society.

Other Dangers to Birds

Also please keep your cats inside or supervised (meaning you are outside with them and can yell, Hey!) or in an outdoor cattery. It is estimated that cats kill 3.7 billion birds in the US every year! 

You know what else kills birds? Wind turbines. One of the worst is the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in northern California.

Anyway, sorry to bring you down. I hope this blog inspires you to start your own backyard bird habitat. You will be doing nature a favor, while bringing a lot of pleasure to yourself and others. Chirp!


  1. James Watson James Watson

    That was not a silly blog. It was very interesting and informative. Nice pictures of birds also.

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      Thank you Jim! I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting!

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