In the spring, as the frozen ground thaws and signs of green slowly start to emerge, we begin again in earnest to attract life to our backyards. To entice birds, whose avian acrobatics and cheery chirps enliven and animate our burgeoning gardens, we install feeders that often produce disappointing results or invite a host of unwelcome critters. Garden Design turned to Stephen W. Kress, Ph.D., vice president for bird conservation at the National Audubon Society, for advice on how to maximize a backyard’s avifauna-attracting potential.
GD: Where should you position your feeder?
SK: To reduce lethal risk of collision with windows, feeders should be located within 3 feet of the house or more than 30 feet away. For sparrows and doves, place feeders on or near the ground (but not in homes with outdoor cats).
GD: What sort of birds might a beginner hope to attract?
SK: Chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, doves, sparrows, juncos, cardinals, and jays.
GD: What sort of feed do you recommend?
SK: Black oil sunflower is, hands-down, the most popular with birds; I also recommend hulled safflower, white millet, and cracked corn.
GD: How do you deter unwanted visitors?
SK: To avoid squirrels, do not hang feeders in or under trees; put them in the open about 20 feet from any shrubs. I also like to use feeders with a counterbalanced perch.
A birdbath sundial from Telescopes of Vermont.
GD: What is the biggest mistake you see novices make when installing a bird feeder?
SK: People place feeders near reflective glass that causes window strikes and then leave their cats outdoors—bad combination.
GD: How can one hope to make a bird-friendly garden?
SK: Look to natural areas for inspiration and use native plants, arranging them in layers. I think greening our cities with plants that birds will eat, find shelter in, and nest in is a very important goal.