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 have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018