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If you’ve ever looked out your kitchen window to see a brilliant red Northern Cardinal at your feeder on a snowy day, or heard spring’s first Yellow Warbler sing its cheery song from a tree you planted, you know what a profound joy it is to welcome birds to your home.
But in a time when many avian species are in alarming decline, hosting birds also comes with a responsibility to keep them out of harm’s way during their visits. Fortunately, the simple actions below will help to make your home a safe, rejuvenating pit stop for feathered visitors.
While these tips are geared toward those with yards, apartment-dwellers can also adopt some of these practices (such as making windows more visible to birds or providing native plants), and urge their landlords to implement others. It’s going to take a lot of work to help bird populations recover, but we can all do our part.
Feeding birds provides a much-needed energy boost to long-distance migrants, but it can also raise the risk of potentially deadly window strikes. To help birds refuel safely, be sure to place your feeder less than 3 feet from your house—so they don’t have enough space to gain dangerous speed—or more than 30 feet away.
Help prevent deadly crashes by making your windows more visible to birds. Exterior window screens help by making clear glass more noticeable. So do decals, which you can purchase from Feather Friendly and other companies—or create on your own. It’s important to note that decals should be tightly spaced, no more than two inches apart. Another easy way to help: If your windows are dirty, they’re easier for birds to see, so leave them that way until migration winds down.
We love our pets as much as anyone, but there’s just no getting around it: When cats are outdoors, they’re a deadly threat to birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion wild birds every year in this country alone. Keeping cats indoors not only saves avian lives but also keeps our feline friends out of danger. Another option we love for giving cats safe outdoor access: Consider a “catio” enclosure.
Growing native plants is one of the best ways to support bird conservation. Trees, shrubs, and wildflowers with which your local birds coevolved offer ideal food and shelter. And since they’re adapted to your local conditions, these species tend to require less maintenance, leaving more time for birding. Audubon’s native plant database can help you find beautiful and beneficial species best suited to your zip code.
Studies show that environmentally friendly behaviors can become contagious when people chat with their neighbors about why they decided to, say, install solar panels or opt for an electric car. Why not use that power of influence to encourage friends and neighbors to grow native plants? One easy way to help bird-friendly practices catch on across your community is to display an Audubon Plants for Birds yard sign touting the advantages of native vegetation, available with a $25 donation.
Another easy way to do more for birds is by putting a little less effort into yardwork. Unraked leaves enrich soil and provide places for bugs and birds to forage. Plants with flowers past their prime, if left standing, offer a feast of seeds and insect larvae. Fallen branches serve as nest-building material and can be heaped into a brush pile that provides welcome shelter.
It is crucial to clean bird feeders and baths about every two weeks to prevent disease outbreaks. Scrub off any visible debris, then wash them with nine parts water to one part bleach. Be sure to dry feeders before refilling them. To keep rodents at bay, regularly rake or shovel up bird droppings and seed casings on the ground below feeders.
This piece originally ran in the Spring 2022 issue as “Make Your Home Bird-Friendly.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.