A Bird Habitat Garden—Plant Choices and Design Tips

Wild birds are my link to the natural world. In my city garden, I've created a small habitat for them, and they repay me with hours of "cheep" entertainment. Our wild bird populations are threatened by habitat loss, global warming, collisions with buildings, and much more. You too can help ease their plight by turning your garden, or a portion of it, into a pesticide-free bird sanctuary.

You'll need to provide the birds with food, water, protective cover, and a safe place to nest. The key is to install a low-maintenance, multilayered habitat of bird-attracting plants—preferably native to your area—which offer year-round shelter and sustenance. Also install a birdbath and a feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds. (Note: These seeds may inhibit plant growth directly underneath feeder.) Last, place a birdhouse ten feet off the ground, facing east. Make sure the entry hole is 1 1/2 inches wide to exclude starlings, which plunder the eggs and fledglings of many native birds.

The plants in the design above are native to woodlands in the eastern U.S. and appeal to humans as well as birds. Grow them in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade, unless otherwise indicated.

A Bird Habitat Garden

Joan McDonald runs a private garden design business, Gardens by Joan, and is a graduate of the BBG Certificate in Horticulture program.

Illustration by Paul Harwood


May 10, 2012
Danielle Christine

I am so glad you’ve put this article out there. It’s very important to keep our birds happy, healthy, and alive—they eat a plethora of bugs that can affect crops, ecosystems, and our skin (mosquitoes!). I’m planning a bluebird backyard with inspiration from this article (they can eat 2,000 insects per mated pair a day—great for an organic garden)! Thank you!

June 30, 2012

Even house sparrows are fun to have. I just watched about ten of them decimate the Japanese beetles in a vine I have climbing on my house. Really, they are tenacious predators. It made me glad I didn’t try to poison the beetles.

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