Attracting Birds to Your Yard

by Jan Cashman

It’s fun to watch birds out your window, especially in the winter.   If you provide adequate food, shelter, and water for them, you can attract a wide variety of birds to your yard.  Many species of birds are found in Bozeman and the surrounding area.  Sparrows, finches, chickadees, cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, even Hungarian partridge, ruffed grouse and pheasants are some we have seen in our yard.  Here are a few ways to attract more birds to your yard in the winter—and summer, too:


A bird feeder filled with oiled sunflower seeds will attract finches and chickadees.  We once added thistle seed to our feeder, but found that the birds dropped some seed which emerged into thistles next spring.  ‘Nyjer’ is an imported nutritious substitute for thistle seed, higher in calories and oil, and heat sterilized to prevent germination.   Suet, hung near your bird feeder, is also a good source of heat and energy for birds in the winter.

It is better to buy individual kinds of bird seed rather than a mix; the birds will just toss the seeds they don’t like in the mix on the ground.

Provide bird food at different levels to appeal to different kinds of birds.  Bird seed doesn’t have to be in a bird feeder.  We sprinkle seed on our deck rail; and on the ground for pheasants, grouse, and partridge.

Plants for the Birds

Besides buying food for your bird feeders, plant trees and shrubs that produce seeds and fruit.  Native plants provide food and shelter that the birds are accustomed to.   Serviceberry, dogwood, silver buffaloberry, skunkbrush sumac, wild rose, alder, Douglas hawthorn, chokecherry, snowberry, yellow currant, and junipers are all native plants that will make the birds feel at home.

Flowers with abundant seeds, both annual and perennial, like sunflowers and purple coneflower, will attract birds.  Don’t be too quick to dead-head flowers that are done blooming; let them go to seed.

Small, fruit-bearing trees, such as mountain ash, flowering crabs, Russian olive, alder, and hawthorn, provide good food and nesting habitat for your feathered friends.   A flock of cedar waxwings or grosbeaks will swoop into a mountain ash tree in the winter and eat every berry.  Many of the newer varieties of flowering crabs have fruit which is ‘persistant’, in other words, the fruit hangs on the tree until eaten by the birds; it does not drop on the ground and make a mess.

Large shrubs like serviceberry, high bush cranberry, arrowwood viburnum, buffaloberry, Nanking cherry, cotoneaster, and honeysuckle, provide food for birds.  Avoid severe pruning of these shrubs—the birds will like them better if you let them grow tall and natural.  Currants and gooseberries are smaller shrubs with good fruit for birds (if you don’t use their fruit yourself).    Shrub roses are great for birds, providing protection and edible rose hips.

Both Virginia creeper and dropmore scarlet honeysuckle are vines that produce fruit for the birds, plus their tangled vines can provide hiding and nesting places.


While bluebirds need a nesting box, most birds just need shelter from the elements and a place to hide.  Evergreen trees provide good shelter both winter and summer.   The large, old Techny arborvitaes surrounding our deck provide wonderful shelter for shy chickadees.  Spruce and upright junipers also make good shelter.  Tall shade trees provide a necessary canopy for the birds in the summer.  Maples and birch trees have the added bonus of seeds.

An impeccably manicured yard with lots of mowed grass is not the ideal landscape for birds.  Birds prefer a wild, natural environment.  An unmowed field of wildflowers and native grasses can provide food and cover for many birds.  Dead trees left standing and brush piles may not be beautiful to our eyes, but they can provide nesting places, food, and cover.  If you live in the country, you may want to leave your yard a little rough around the edges for the birds.


Birds need water—they especially like running water.  Heaters can be purchased for bird baths in the winter, providing necessary shallow water access.  Always keep your bird bath filled with water.  A pond, big or small, located near protective cover, gives the large birds someplace to go.  Ducks might stay all winter if your pond has open water.

Provide food for the birds, plants that give them shelter, and a water source, and you will have birds of all kinds in your yard—this winter, and next spring, summer and fall.