How to attract birds, not bears

Watching birds is a great hobby the whole family can enjoy. Watching bears destroy your bird feeders isn’t nearly as much fun. You can’t blame the bears; the average seed feeder can hold a whopping 18,000 calories in a handy carry-out container. Hummingbird feeders are like energy drinks for bears.

Bears are naturally shy and wary of people. But once they get a big food reward for overcoming their natural reluctance to hang around humans, they often go exploring for more treats. This can create problems for both people and bears.

What should someone who cares about the birds AND the bears do? BearWise recommends you remove bird feeders when bears are active and focus on other ways to attract birds to your yard. Here are some proven and effective ways to attract birds without having to feed them.

Add a Water Feature

Birds need fresh water to drink and bathe, and are always on the lookout for dependable sources. Adding a simple bird bath, a fountain or a small pool with a bubbler to your garden is a sure-fire attractant. There are even water features that can be hung like a feeder. Birds are attracted to the sound of moving water; add a few flat “bathing” stones for birds.

Shelter and Perches

Birds need places to perch and places to hide from predators. Small branching trees and bushes provide perches, shelter and an easy way for you to watch the birds. Adding a colorful windchime or other decoration to your garden will give hummingbirds a place to perch as well.

Plant for Birds

Conservationists recommend planting native plants, flowers, bushes, vines, trees and evergreens to provide birds with food and shelter from predators and bad weather. An added benefit for us: native plants are often easier to care for than non-native plants. TIP: Avoid pesticides; many birds rely on insects for a big part of their diet.

Brightly colored, trumpet-shaped and tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Sunflowers, coneflowers, asters and marigolds all produce seeds birds like to eat. Many attractive bushes and flowering trees also attract birds that eat fruits and berries. Nurseries can help you choose beneficial native plants that do well in your area.

Get Plant Recommendations by Zip Code: The Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database contains thousands of plants; just enter your zip code and you’ll get a selection of Best Choices for your area, along with photos, local resources and next steps. Your local chapter of the Audubon Society may be able to recommend experts who can help. And the Pollinator Partnership offers regional planting guides and zip code recommendations.

Sand Baths and Grit

Birds take dust baths; you can make a simple dust bath using fine sand surrounded by pavers or landscaping timbers. Position it near cover so birds are safe from predators. Birds don’t have teeth; their gizzards digest food and need grit to work properly. Birds will appreciate a corner with sand and small bits of gravel and stone.

Nesting Boxes

It is easy to attract and monitor birds with a Gilbertson PVC nest box. (Photo: Alan Olander)

Several species of birds use nesting boxes, and many cavity-nesting birds now depend on them because there are far fewer standing dead trees. Summer is a great time to scope out locations and buy or make boxes so you’re ready to put them up in late winter. Nest boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to attract different species. Visit for help finding the right boxes for the bird species nesting in your area.

Thanks for helping to make it a good summer for birds and bears.

Download the BearWise Bulletin #1: Attract Birds, Not Bears

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