Birding for Small Spaces

Attracting birds doesn’t take a lot of space. Try our tips for birding in small spaces like balconies or windowsills.

Just because you don’t have a backyard doesn’t mean attracting birds is out of reach. People who live in apartment houses or condos, who have only a balcony or even just a windowsill, can also enjoy watching birds feed, bathe and sometimes even nest, just outside their windows. You can easily meet the three basic needs of wildlife-food, water and cover-in any outdoor location, whatever the size may be. The idea for small-space birding is to think tiny, as in a microcosm of a backyard.

Because natural cover is the key ingredient of any successful backyard wildlife habitat, natural cover has to be an important part of the microhabitat. If you are dealing with a small balcony, then two or three potted evergreens or shrubs, 2 to 3 feet high, will work perfectly. The natural vegetation will give the birds a place to hide, and even build nests, out of predators’ sight. The availability of hiding places in the potted plants may also give the birds more confidence to visit your mini bird sanctuary, attracting birds no matter how small the space.

The same is true of water. There are many ways to offer birds a place to drink and bathe on a balcony. A simple ceramic dish on a pedestal, which you clean and freshen often, will work just fine. Be sure that the water is no more than 2 inches deep, so that the birds can stand on the bottom while bathing. An even better water feature is a small recirculating pool that pumps water to the top as it flows back to the bottom. The movement and sound of the water will act like a magnet to any passing bird.

Finally, food for birds is the easiest of all to provide. If the potted shrubs you already have just happen to produce fruits or berries for the birds to eat, it’s the best of both worlds. But setting up a variety of bird feeders, containing an assortment of seed, fruits and suet, may be the best way to offer food to birds. Feeders are easy to refill, too.

If your home doesn’t have a balcony, then you can downsize even further. A windowsill, perhaps extended by a board or box, will provide enough space to offer the birds food, water and cover. Even though the space is meager, small potted plants, a bowl of water and small feeders with seed, fruits and suet will do the job. The best thing about this birding setup is that all you have to do to maintain the habitat is raise the window.

You may be surprised how well the birds in your neighborhood will adapt to a windowsill or other small space. You might even find them tapping on your window when you need to refill the feeders or birdbath!

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George Harrison
George Harrison is an expert about feeding and attracting birds and avian behavior. He formerly served as While serving as managing editor of National Wildlife and as a longtime contributor to Birds & Blooms.