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Plan, Plant and Enjoy a Bird-Friendly Garden in the Midwest

Mar 31, 2023 ● By Melinda Myers
Birdbath a bronze sculpture of a bird in a garden.

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Create a beautiful garden filled with bird-friendly plants and enjoy the many benefits of birdwatching at home. Seeing and listening to birds has been shown to boost our spirits. These visitors also help manage a variety of insect pests, as 96 percent of North American terrestrial birds consume insects and feed them to their young.

Plan a landscape that provides food for seasonal visitors as well as year-round residents. Select trees, shrubs and flowers with berries, seeds and nectar the birds like to eat. Plants are nature’s bird feeders that do not require cleaning or restocking.

Check range maps in field guides and Cornell University’s All About Birds website to help identify and prepare for birds that may visit the yard. Boosting food sources during spring and fall migration helps them recharge on their long journeys. Providing food year-round supports those birds nesting and overwintering in the landscape.



Take a clue from nature when creating plantings that provide shelter for birds to rest, nest and escape from predators. Dense shrub plantings create thickets many birds prefer, and larger groupings make dining easier for the birds. They will waste less energy traveling between plants when the food sources are growing close together.

Plantings provide visual impact, colorful screening and living boundaries in the yard. Vines are great options in small and large spaces. They can dress up blank walls, fences and arbors while providing food and shelter for birds. Provide strong supports and avoid damage by keeping the vines off wooden homes and siding.

Select a diverse collection of bird-friendly plants that are suited to the growing conditions. Check the tag to make sure they will fit in the available space once they reach their mature size. Including a variety of plants helps attract a wider range of birds. It also helps reduce the risk of an insect or disease wiping out a large portion of the plantings, like what was experienced with emerald ash borer and Dutch elm disease.

Include both evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in winter. Evergreens provide a green backdrop, highlighting plants in the foreground and year-round shelter for birds. Deciduous trees and shrubs can provide multiple seasons of beauty with flowers, fruit and fall color. Many also provide shelter and food for songbirds.


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Consider supplementing food as needed throughout the year. Stock the appropriate style of feeders with the type of food preferred by the birds we are trying to attract. Place feeders carefully to avoid window collisions, but put them in areas where they can easily be viewed, filled and cleaned. Plant trees and shrubs nearby to provide protective covering from hawks, feral cats and other predators.


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Adding a birdbath is another way to attract birds to gardens. Providing clean and dependable sources of water can help attract birds that don’t eat seeds and wouldn’t otherwise visit the garden. Select a shallow birdbath with gently sloping sides that allows birds to take a sip of water without getting wet, or set a few stones in a deeper birdbath to accomplish the same result.

Change the water every day or two to keep it clean, safe for drinking and to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Use warm water and a scrub brush to remove algae. The Audubon Society recommends rinsing and scrubbing birdbaths as needed with a solution of nine parts water to one part vinegar, then thoroughly rinse and fill with fresh water.

Providing water year-round is important for birds residing here in winter. Purchase a heated birdbath or use an immersion heater in a cold weather-resistant birdbath, or set out a plastic bowl filled with water at the same time each day. Bring it back inside once it freezes.

Creating a landscape filled with bird-friendly plants, water and shelter is sure to attract a variety of birds to our landscape. The efforts will be rewarded with seasons and decades of entertainment and beauty we can enjoy right outside our back door.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything instant video series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. For more information, visit


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Learn more about attracting birds to our landscape with Melinda Myers at 11 a.m., April 22, at Pasquesi Home and Gardens, located at 975 N. Shore Dr., in Lake Bluff.
The event is free and no registration is required.