Editor's Note: This is the first article in a four-part series on the basics of attracting, feeding, and sheltering birds.
Probably the most important element for making your yard attractive to birds is its physical makeup. Are there trees, shrubs, and vines to provide protective nesting and resting places for birds? Will these plants also provide food year-round for the birds (to supplement your feeding)? Whether you live in the Southwestern deserts or the Midwestern plains, your yard will draw many more birds with a good mixture of vegetative types. Variety is the spice of life for birds, too.
Here are a few things to consider if you want to enhance your property for birds.
1. Choose shrubs, trees, and vines that produce a wealth of berries, cones, and fruits. Pines, spruces, junipers, crabapples, oaks, birches, dogwoods, mountain ashes, mulberries, and cherries are all excellent choices.
2. Use native plants as much as possible. Exotics have their place, but there are more than enough handsome and useful native plants to make a yard in any corner of the continent a birder's paradise.
3. If possible, design your yard with larger trees at the rear and sides of the property. Trees planted on the north side generally prevent heavy shading of lawns and also reduce winter winds. Borders of shrubs and low trees should then be planted in front of the taller species.
4. Remember that exposure is important for plants. Those that need critical amounts of sun and/or shade to thrive must be placed appropriately in your yard.
5. And finally, ask other backyard birders and gardeners in your area what works best for them. If you know of people with bird habitats, ask to tour of their grounds.
Is your yard wildlife-friendly? To find out, try using the Backyard Habitat Planning Guide. You can also certify your yard through the National Wildlife Federation to receive special benefits!