In the City

Photo © Dirtworks| Andrew Bordwin

No Big Backyard?

No problem! You can still offer food, water, and cover to birds on your balcony, deck, windowsill, or rooftop. When it comes to urban birding, blogger David Lindo reminds us, “Anything can turn up anywhere at any time.” Be ready with sources of food, water, and safety. Whether you are considering a green roof, container garden, or adopting a vacant lot, your efforts will be rewarded with close-up views of birds who don’t mind people one bit.

Luscious City Garden

Photo © pwbaker


Grow short varieties of bird-friendly flowers like sunflower, millet, or cosmos in containers as natural bird food. You can also use Plexiglass window feeders with dividers to offer different kinds of seeds and even nectar for hummingbirds. Clean-up is a breeze if you use only shelled nuts, hulled seeds, and fruits (which your landlord and neighbors will appreciate, too!).


Providing water is also easy. Just put out a shallow (less than 2” deep) ceramic dish, fill with water, and clean frequently. In cold areas, a heated pet dish works well, too.


Nothing beats the shelter value of a few evergreen shrubs (try Eastern or Western juniper). Or, take advantage of vertical space by growing a native vine up a trellis. Container gardens are a straightforward way to provide portable bird-friendly shelter; it’s easy to rearrange them as your collection grows or seasons change.

Know Your Neighbors

There are some birds which do very well for themselves in our concrete jungles. The Rock Pigeon has no problem nesting on a tall building because it mimics their natural habitat: cliffs and rock ledges. The European Starling is another bird you are likely to encounter in any city, from coast to coast. They form large groups and make a startling array of noises. The clever little House Sparrow is easily spotted anywhere there is food; you can even find them in parking lots, picking insects from the grills of parked cars. These three species are the most common birds encountered in cities, but none of them are actually native to the United States. All three were introduced from Europe a long time ago and are fully integrated into our urban and suburban environments. It’s important to know these ubiquitous neighbors because you’ll be seeing a lot of them. By learning what they sound like, you can quickly filter out their calls from the less common birds you seldom see. Many people also consider it a standard of success when their bird gardening efforts result in the attraction of a growing list of native birds. In areas where our native birds compete for resources with invasive species, you should feel really good about being able to give native birds a leg up in your space. Where possible, try to avoid encouraging starlings and House Sparrows– they are exceptional at exploiting the food and nesting resources that our cities already provide.

True Urbanites

The European Starling (left) and House Sparrow (right) are truly successful urban birds.

Photo © European Starling © Robinsegg, House Sparrow © Grant Hickey

Here are some more ways to get colorful songbirds, fierce hummers, and dashing woodpeckers to visit your patch:

Vertical gardening

Photo © Martin Deutsch
  • If you are lucky enough to have a postage stamp-sized lot in the city, consider getting rid of your lawn entirely and planting a bird garden (lawns attract starlings).
  • Take advantage of vertical space: grow plants in tall tubular structures or wall planters.
  • Use raised beds or containers to keep plants away from sidewalk salt or pollution.
  • Hanging plants are easy to care for and can be brought inside when winter winds blow.
  • Urban gardens and green spaces are under tremendous development pressure 1. Support conservation efforts that protect habitat islands in cities whenever possible.
Want to do more? Celebrate Urban Birds with us! Plucky, resilient, enterprising– urban birds make fascinating subjects to monitor as part of our citizen science efforts.