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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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020