How to Attract Birds to a Small Backyard

Turn your small-space backyard into a haven for feathered friends.

Birds are easy to please. Give them the necessities (food, water, and shelter) and they visit backyards of any size, or even balconies and patios, says Laura Erickson, bird expert and author.

Urban areas are as bird-friendly as large suburban backyards. Think about this: Most of our biggest cities are built on rivers or large lakes, which also happen to be migration pathways. As birds travel, especially during spring and fall migration, they’re on the lookout for familiar scenery.

Jam-pack multiple containers with bird-friendly blooms and add a feeder and a birdbath, and your small space will be swarming with birds in no time.

Grow These Small-Space Plants

The key to attracting birds to a small area is to get your space noticed, Laura says. And the first thing a bird sees are plants, which they associate with food and shelter. Shrubs grow well in small yards or containers, and birds use them as nest sites or to escape from predators. Remember that plants are home to insects, which are an important part of a bird’s diet. The more plants you have, the more birds you attract. (Read: Top 10 Shrubs for Your Small-Space Garden)

Select Super Seeds

Black oil sunflower seed is the go-to meal for virtually all birds, Laura says. It’s an ideal option if you have space for only one feeder. Because the seeds are more fragile than striped sunflower, a variety of birds can crack them open easily.

Serve their favorite seeds in an acrylic window feeder if you are tight on space. Buy one with suction cups to attach to a pane of glass, and make sure it has tiny perches for songbirds, Laura says. The small perches prevent nuisance birds, like pigeons, from gaining access to the seeds. (Read: 3 Types of Seeds Birds Love Best)

Buy a Birdbath

Get the biggest bang for your birdbath buck when you add moving water to an ordinary bath. Birds hear the trickling bubbling sound and stop for a drink or a dip, Laura says. It’s as easy as adding a solar-powered pump to a bath in a sunny spot. Laura found that a desk bubbler placed in a shallow pan makes a simple water feature in a pinch.

Set up your backyard with the trifecta and watch birds right from your window. Once birds find your space and adjust to the surroundings, they come back for more. (Read: Make a Simple Homemade Birdbath)

Bonus Tip!

If you don’t have room for a feeder, just skip it! Spread white millet in front of shrubs for ground-feeders like juncos and sparrows. Or smear chunky peanut butter on a tree trunk for chickadees and woodpeckers.

Victory in the City

Field Editors share their best tips for feeding birds in urban areas.

I attach a board to the window ledge and sprinkle sunflower seeds across it. The birds come to the makeshift feeder even with me watching. The key is nearby shrubs that offer the birds protection. — Grace Huffman Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

I have a feeding station and keep all the feeders together. Because I live in town, neighborhood cats are an issue, so the feeders are high up and near a tree to provide shelter for the birds. — Rebecca Williamson Bushnell, Illinois

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines as a time and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds, and attended various festivals, including Sedona Hummingbird Festival, Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival and Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.