May 14, 2015 | Featured in: Creating Your Backyard Bird Garden

Garden projects

A large sunflower head is nature's most attractive bird feeder.

If you've got some time to spare, here are a few backyard projects to keep you going on those slow weekends.

Grow Your Own Birdseed

Plant some seed in your yard; it will grow into more seed. You are probably familiar with sunflower plants, but have you seen the spiky stems of safflower? You will be amazed by the number of seeds that just one plant produces. Most people leave most of the crop standing for the birds to enjoy. Some people harvest sunflower and safflower and store it in a cool, dry, rodent-free area until they need it for winter bird feeding. Some other excellent seed-producing plants include coneflowers, coreopsis, primroses, marigolds, poppies, and flax.

Create a Brush Pile

To protect birds from cold and wind, place four logs or thick branches about six feet long in a square. On top of these, place five or six thinner limbs, propping them against each other to form an inverted cone, or tepee shape. The leafy ends of the branches should be toward the ground. Place smaller branches, again with the leafy ends down, against the uprights to fill in the spaces. This allows roosting birds access, but keeps out nighttime predators such as raccoons or cats. The pile can be a great winter hideout for rabbits, too, if you keep two of the corners of the four bottom logs at least four inches apart before adding the branches. Make the brush pile thickest on the side facing the prevailing winds. Add more branches as the pile breaks down over the months and years. Do not add soil or compost to the pile, because the weight will crush it.

Start Your Own Nursery

Over an exposed, tilled soil area, string a line between two poles. Birds will land on the wire after feeding. As the seeds they have eaten pass through their systems, they will defecate into your newly tilled area. This natural process gets more plants going. You are manipulating the system so that the birds drop the seeds where you want them. Also, by tilling and exposing the soil below the wire, you are increasing the percentage of seeds that will germinate. In a few months, you can transplant those seedlings to other areas of your yard. The bird benefit of these plants is already evident, because the birds were the ones to plant them. Two cautions to bear in mind about your bird wire: string it above head height and away from any paths people use; and watch your seedlings for invasive non-native plants such as multiflora rose, Russian olive, and Japanese honeysuckle. These invaders can quickly take over much of your yard.

Install a Natural Snag

Dead or dying trees are an important part of a bird-attracting treescape. Snags are generally short, broken-off tree trunks that provide homes for cavity-nesting birds and insect food sources for other species. To find a tree trunk to use in your yard, check with your local recycling center or tree service. When installing a snag, remember that one-third of the total length of the trunk should be underground. As the snag decays, this will prevent it from falling over.

Put a Path Through Your Yard

Backyard paths add the feeling of size to your backyards, and they provide a chance to see what birds use your yard. Length doesn't matter; the path gives the illusion that the yard is bigger. Most of the paths I have laid out have been either through a woodland or a meadow area. For woodland paths, I use pine bark chips for a walking base. Meadow paths require no material, just weekly mowing during the season to keep the path open and walkable. Paths keep stickers from grabbing your legs and ticks from latching onto you from high grass. If you build a long path, consider placing benches at good resting/bird-viewing spots along the way.

Creating Your Backyard Bird Garden is a 32-page guide packed with practical, easy-to-understand information, color photographs, and useful tips to help you make your backyard irresistible to birds. Order yours today from the Bird Watcher's Digest Nature Shop! »

About David B. Donnelly

David Donnelly lives in Freehold, New Jersey, with his wife, Jean, and their three children, Brent, Breanne, and Brayden. The Donnelly’s bird-friendly yard provides endless hours of education, adventure, and fun for the whole family.

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The Latest Comments

  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021