Photo © Tom Lee

Kinds of food

Birds don’t just eat bird seed. They also eat insects, fruits, berries, nuts, nectar, and other animals. Not all birds eat the same things. Habitat needs for a species of birds are, in part, driven by food preferences. Some birds catch flying insects (like swifts), others forage for arthropods in the leaf litter on the forest floor (like wood thrushes), while still others hang precariously from seed heads on grasses (like goldfinches). These preferences drive birds’ habitat choices. To see more about different birds’ food preferences check out this resource: Which birds, which plants.

<a href="">House Wren</a> with insect

Photo © photosuze

Migration Connection

Not all birds migrate, but those that do are following their preferred food: insects. Some birds that eat a lot of seeds and berries skip migration all together, or make much less dramatic migrations from the far north to mid-latitude regions where milder winters increase chances of foraging for seeds.

Wild spaces that occur along birds’ migration pathways are key refueling stops for hungry, tired birds in need of calories to sustain their journeys. During these stops, birds rely on Fall-fruiting berries, seed heads from grasses, other late season wild food. Planting your yard with the kinds of native plants timed to coincide with birds’ migrations might be extremely helpful.

<a href="">Anna's Hummingbird</a>

Photo © Lee Jaffe

Native Intuition

Native plants often make sense. They often require less intervention and energy to care for, provide more nutritious berries for birds, support a greater diversity of insects (which in turn become bird food), generally allow for more diverse plant life (they don’t suppress other plant life by outcompeting it as dramatically), and the foods they produce evolved alongside birds, making them more intuitive matches for meeting one another’s needs.

Which Bird, Which Plant?

Check out this interactive guide displaying food preferences for a handful of birds

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Ever wonder what to plant in your yard to attract birds? Turns out, birds have food preferences. This interactive webpage lets you look for birds in your area (East or West), narrow down the food types you are interested in, and get some great ideas for native shrubs, grasses, and trees that you can plant to attract a diversity of birds. You might even be inspired to start a yard list once you realize how many fantastic birds you can see in your yard. Just start a list of every bird species that you have seen from your own yard (how you define that is up to you), and pretty soon you’ll be looking for ways to make your yard better-than-average for birds. While many properties can and do support hundreds of different bird species, the average American yard can easily attract at least 50 kinds of beautiful, interesting birds with the right planning! Start building habitat, and let the birds come to you.

Blue Jay Scores a Peanut

Photo © Pat Kavanagh

Feeding Birds

Providing food for birds is an easy way to attract them to nearly any space. Different birds have different seed preferences, so providing a variety of seeds will bring a variety of birds to your site. Some birds will also come to peanuts, popcorn, melons, citrus, or nectar. Learn more about feeding at the FeederWatch website. To get more involved with your feeder birds and provide valuable bird abundance data to correspond with your YardMap habitat data, join Project FeederWatch.